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Managing, responding to, and reducing the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers: commitments to action and ways forward

Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Conference

11 May 2011 at the MIE2, Chemin de Balexert, Geneva, Switzerland


Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 3 Opening remarks .................................................................................................................. 4 Panel presentations .............................................................................................................. 5 Working groups..................................................................................................................... 7 Senior management responsibility and organisational commitments ................................. 8 Networks ­ joint advocacy and action................................................................................ 9 Prevention, protection and practical solutions.................................................................. 10 Panel on policy commitments and concrete actions ............................................................ 11 Statement of Commitment................................................................................................... 12 Closing remarks .................................................................................................................. 12 Annex I: Geneva Declaration on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Action............................................................................................................ 13



The following report documents key themes and discussion points from the conference. The conference was held with financial assistance from the Oak Foundation. Research in the humanitarian aid sector and reports from the wider arena provide evidence that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to be perpetrated by different actors including aid workers. The recent findings from the IASC review of protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by UN, NGO and IFRC Personnel, as well as the HAP commissioned beneficiary perceptions study "Change starts with us, talk to us", found that while progress has been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go to tackle the causes of abuse, to increase the accountability of humanitarian workers to the people they seek to assist and to enable beneficiaries of aid to register their complaints and concerns. The HAP conference on PSEA built on the ongoing consultations with NGOs, the UN and other humanitarian actors since the publication of these reports and used the recommendations from the reports as a reference for discussions. Specific objectives of the conference were: To (re)affirm the role and commitments of senior management to ensuring the integration of prevention and response mechanisms in their organisational risk management systems To explore and generate ideas on latest best practices for achieving the abovementioned objective To establish consensus and collaboration between NGOs, UN agencies, donors, beneficiaries and other key stakeholders to strengthen protection, risk reduction and prevention systems

Over 95 representatives from 75 organisations from INGOs, National NGOs, National Networks, beneficiary representatives, UN entities, IGOs, Donors and other stakeholders took part in the working group discussions. The discussion groups focused on four areas; 1) Donor perspectives and policy. 2) Organisational commitments and senior management responsibility 3) Networks and joint action and 4) Prevention, protection and practical solutions. The sessions were facilitated by donor representatives, senior managers from the UN and INGOs, National Networks and field practitioners. The session facilitators were provided with some guiding questions to explore with the group. The representatives brought perspectives from a range of contexts including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Malawi, Armenia, Haiti, Palestine, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, European and Scandinavian countries. The conference provided a forum for participants to share good practice examples and challenges and discuss the way forward to reduce risk of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers. Many participants expressed their satisfaction with the discussions and urged HAP to hold this type of conference annually and to provide a forum to share good practice and discuss progress on this very important issue. They also recommended that more time be allocated to the rich discussions.


Opening remarks

The Chair of HAP, Antonio Donini of Tufts University, welcomed everybody and confirmed how much HAP appreciated their attendance at the conference. HAP's Executive Director, Angela Raven-Roberts, expressed her appreciation of the large number of participants, many of whom had come long distances, showing how much commitment there is to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. With a large conference on risk reduction taking place simultaneously in Geneva, Angela posited that addressing SEA is also a way of reducing risks ­ these being the inherent risks because of the way in which aid itself is organized and targeted. This conference provides an opportunity to reaffirm this commitment, and consider how best to take forward action for PSEA from this point on.


Panel presentations

Rebecca Larson, ACT Alliance: Sexual exploitation and abuse is the most egregious violation individuals can experience, and it undermines the central tenets of what humanitarian workers are trying to achieve. The HAP Standard 2010 includes a requirement that member organisations have PSEA policies and procedures in place. Furthermore, the HAP 2011 General Assembly (12 & 13 May 2011) will consider a change to the statutes to make it a condition of HAP membership that an organization has, or develops, a code of conduct including PSEA. As a statement of commitment and a way of taking forward the discussions that will take place today, HAP has proposed a Declaration for organizations to sign. Organisations can indicate their commitment to addressing SEA by signing this declaration. Melissa Pitotti, Refugee & Migration Affairs, US Mission to the UN: Melissa explained that the annual budget of the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) is over one billion dollars, and their mission is to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees, conflict victims and other displaced people. After the tsunami, the US Congress raised questions about sexual abuse by humanitarian workers and the Department of State was required thereafter to demonstrate that they had systems for due diligence to respond and prevent SEA. Thus BPRM now requires all funded agencies to have a code of conduct including PSEA. Melissa went on to say that our first principle in humanitarian work must be to do no harm. A beneficiary should not become more vulnerable because of the assistance we are providing. We must provide the opportunity and mechanisms for beneficiaries to have a voice, and we must welcome their feedback and not be afraid of hearing what they have to say. She noted that attention to PSEA has faded a bit recently ­ as humanitarians, our attention can be pulled in many different directions. It is encouraging, therefore, to see how many people have shown their commitment by attending this conference. Yasna Uberoi, United Nations Department of Field Support, Conduct and Discipline Unit, New York In 2005, the United Nations introduced a strategy to address misconduct by its workers, including peacekeepers. The role of the UN Conduct and Discipline Unit is to address such abuse, including SEA. In undertaking this work, they have the strongest commitment from the highest level of leadership within the UN. A first statement of commitment on PSEA was signed in 2006 by a large number of United Nations and other agencies. However, action on PSEA has been slow to follow on from the signed commitment, and the humanitarian community still has much to do in terms of strengthening leadership on PSEA, introducing complaints mechanisms, and having processes within organizations, as well as working together to make these initiatives more effective at field level. Pierre Esperance, Réseau National de Défense de Droits Humaines (RNDDH), Haiti: Pierre introduced the work of RNDDH, which is promotion of, and education about, human rights. After the earthquake, international organizations arrived in large numbers in Haiti, and did not always cooperate well with the civil society national organizations existing in the country. There were a lot of missed opportunities to build capacity of police, civil administration and local non-government organizations. As a result, there is a lack of improvement on the ground in Haiti, eighteen months on. RNDDH worked at encouraging cooperation between local and international organizations and donors, particularly in the area of employment of staff. International organizations unfamiliar with the systems in Haiti 5

were taking people on without checking records, increasing risks of badly-intentioned individuals (including some who had escaped from the prison) getting into positions where they could perpetuate abuse. Khalil Marouf, Ard el Atfal, Director, Palestine Khalil talked about the challenges of implementing PSEA measures from the point of view of local NGO. He recounted his experience of being torn between fundraising and donor requirements and the responsibilities of senior management in terms of systems and implementation to ensure that services are reaching communities in need. With regard to PSEA, there are protection working groups, clusters, workshops and meetings and different requirements by different quality and accountability initiatives. Interaction with the remote communities presents its own challenges - most beneficiaries are part of conservative communities where it is taboo to discuss SEA issues. In the face of all this, Khalil sees the key to effectiveness as being in building capacity of the local community ­ the village animators, the volunteers ­ at basic level. He would hope to see a situation where a donor could trace the effectiveness of a PSEA system all the way to a community located several hours' walk from the nearest road. Discussions Bureaucratisation and competition: Some participants voiced the concern that the bureaucratisation of the sector and competition between agencies for funding leaves little time and energy at the end of it all for attending to the beneficiary communities, and emphasised that coordination is needed to ensure that everyone is pulling in the right direction on this subject. Donor support for NGO accountability: Some participants asked the donors how they can support NGOs in being more accountable and avoiding these kinds of situations, pointing out that donors are also accountable to beneficiaries. BPRM is promoting codes of conducts, and has a cadre of refugee coordinators posted throughout the world, trained in PSEA, and who have a specific responsibility to monitor implementation of the PSEA systems on the ground. At Geneva level, the PSEA message is also on the agenda at the UNHCR's Executive Committee, including the eighty-five governments represented there. There is a need to do more outreach to other donors in future, to try to develop more common messages, so that organizations are not being told to do different things by different donors. Complaints mechanisms in remote communities: There was emphasis on developing capacity of community animators reporting back on issues from the community. Investing more in local capacity is essential to the way forward on this issue.


Working groups

Donor policy and perspectives

Working group facilitators: Melissa Pitotti, US Mission to the UN, and Anastasia Anthopoulos, Oak Foundation. Donor expectations: The donors felt that there is sometimes poor internal communication within organisations, the field staff may be not well informed about the codes that the organisation has signed up to. The donors recommended that organisations should work with existing community mechanisms, helping to reactivate them for distribution and other services, to avoid setting up situations with increased risk for sexual exploitation and abuse. Donor support: Representatives from organisations wanted to see consistency of the message articulated by a harmonised minimum standard as a condition of funding, resources provided to meet the standard, and a high level of scrutiny to hold organisations to account on delivering on this. They felt that donors can help to transmit best practices. For example, in cooperative agreements, we could have indicators such as - 100% of staff signing the code of conduct, 80% of staff trained on protection. The participants in the discussions suggested that it would be helpful if donors would sign up to the Geneva Declaration and that there is need for donors to show solidarity around the PSEA issue. Leading by example: Organisations felt that donors need to create an atmosphere of trust in which they can report and dialogue about their failures and lessons learned without fear that future funding will be threatened. Donors can help lobby for partners to develop complaints mechanism and provide funding to handle complaints, and can undertake advocacy to engage other donors. The participants felt that the principle of "do no harm" should be key to donor actions, along with a clear common message on human rights. Donors should be engaging at all levels, including with local-level implementing partners.


Senior management responsibility and organisational commitments

Working group facilitators: Elizabeth Mpyisi, UNHCR and Roger Yates, Plan International Barriers to organizational commitments: The participants identified several barriers to implementing PSEA measures. Budget and time constraints for setting up complaints mechanisms in the field, as well as a lack of capacity and knowledge were felt to be the major barriers. It was felt that beneficiaries do not want to complaint because of fear of retaliation, slow follow-up on complaints (due to the nature of SEA complaints). It was felt that the biggest barrier also was for organisations that worked with implementing partners and extent to which they could enforce SEA investigations on third parties. There was concern raised about the potential for hijacking of the system by people with specific agendas, including false accusations. The participants discussed the issue of contextual applicability and local context. They were not sure that the organisation's principals were understood and accepted by the local staff members and that they consider the local context in their programming. Knowledge of PSEA, and management responsibility: The participants felt that managers have to know what PSEA is, get refresher courses, but it is often not given priority or included in their performance appraisals. Some felt that the management itself has to comply with the code of conduct, give leadership by example. There is no private sphere. One is always representing an organisation, even in one's spare time. Lines of accountability for PSEA issues are not clear ­ sometimes there are none, and sometimes there are too many. Commitments sound nice on paper, but organisations may not "talk" to beneficiaries or, sometimes, even to the national field staff. Clear explanations need to be given of expectations on staff, and the accountability lines they are to follow. Many participants felt that managers need to implement code of conduct with zero tolerance and clear consequences for those who breach it. Some felt there might be a need for staff to change attitudes, where cultural behaviour is different from those specified in a code of conduct. This issue takes time and work. Inter-agency linkage: Clear message from the participants was that we should work together. A manager's horizon should be wider than just their own organization. If the consequence of breach of code of conduct is dismissal of the staff member, but this is then kept completely confidential, the individual concerned may move to another agency and do the same again. It was emphasised that effective investigation procedures are crucial. The most difficult part is finding proof for what has happened. It was felt that sometimes we pay more attention to the abuser than to the abused. Management needs to give attention to both. The participants emphasised that there is currently no system or structure to deal with a complaint by an individual to one agency about another.


Networks ­ joint advocacy and action

Working group facilitators: Ruby Z Folly, ANPPCAN Liberia and Corinne Davey, Keeping Children Safe Coalition UK

How do networks see their additional value in helping implement PSEA through their membership? The participants identified shared learning because of diverse experience and knowledge, as well as commitment to policies and codes of conduct, joint training and capacity building, mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, as well as joint complaint mechanisms as way of added value. Joint advocacy initiatives, taking collective responsibility and presenting a unified voice are very important strengths of networks. Participants felt it provided a discourse of legitimacy when adopted in strong numbers. The participants identified some challenges including the costs and time needed for participation. It was felt that it is more difficult for those with less funding, which are often the national organisations. Also, competition between - donors, mandates, across and between networks ­ can lead to diluted advocacy. It was recommended that networks should focus on sharing information with each other, joint training and capacity building, joint codes of conduct and mechanisms, and joint complaint mechanisms. Providing redress for complainants is the responsibility of individual organizations rather than of networks.


Prevention, protection and practical solutions

Working group facilitators: Wairimu Munyinyi, Concern Worldwide Sierra Leone and Rubine Devrikvan ­ Armenia Round Table Foundation

Major challenges and learning The absence of policies and information about policies, lack of beneficiary awareness of the issues, and taboos about discussing sex with beneficiaries, as well as cultural barriers to complaining were some of the challenges identified. These could be addressed by engaging with the communities, providing information and training. The existing community structures should be considered­ `best practice' can come from here rather than from an NGO or other external sources. The code of conduct is currently a contract with an organisation and its staff, not with communities (this is a gap). The mechanisms are weak, with no follow up on complaints. This is why communities lose trust. Reducing risk of SEA There was concurrence in the group that unsafe programming may actually increase vulnerability of beneficiaries. This can be avoided by ensuring beneficiary participation in programme planning and implementation, having a Do no harm approach and putting into place a complaints response mechanism. Culturally-insensitive programme design perpetuates existing problems; this can be addressed by consulting beneficiaries in programme design. Poor recruitment and selection processes increase the risks and there is a need for transparency and coordination amongst relevant stakeholders. Lack of gender sensitivity among staff can be harmful. A good gender balance among staff is important. Human resource departments should help, and agencies need to build local staff capacity. It was recommended that HAP members should share information with the relevant agencies. Participants also posed the questions: what do we offer to people who open up about a problem and expect compensation? Is it ethical to solicit complaints without being able to offer any redress? 10

Panel on policy commitments and concrete actions

Yasna Uberoi, United Nations Department of Field Support, Conduct and Discipline Unit, New York Action has been a theme of the day. The six core principles of the 2006 Commitment are still relevant, but how do we take this forward now, with a time-bound commitment to action? Corinne Davey, Keeping Children Safe Coalition UK The Keeping Children Safe Coalition is currently undertaking a project to produce a slimline edition of a toolkit which can easily be used in emergency contexts with accelerated training. Today's discussions have been useful, and the Coalition will do more to coordinate with other networks. We all have to be conscious of the possibility that we, as quality and accountability agencies, may be asking people to do the same thing from different directions. We also need to give consideration to how we can have an impact at field level with the PSEA work, rather than being just an initiative from the headquarters. Anastasia Anthopoulos, Oak Foundation, Geneva Oak Foundation has a strong focus on PSEA. Looking at risks at the level of programme design and delivery is very important. Are there risks induced by the structure of the aid delivery? Structural changes are needed to ensure that this is not happening. A good system is one which is trusted by the beneficiaries, and which is clear in terms of where to go to report a problem. Bearing in mind that even in northern America where there are complex professional systems, only around 5% of child abuse cases go into the system. It is very important that there should be a strong system. If the system works, there will be more cases, and we must prepare for this. Anastasia suggested that, far from worrying that sharing concerns with donors would backfire on funding, agencies should be so open as to publish issues relating to PSEA in their annual reports. Sexual exploitation and abuse exists in all societies and cultures, and it is important to remember that the local communities we are working with are also not power-neutral. Khalil Marouf, Ard el Atfal, Palestine: Khalil emphasised the importance of introducing clear, structured procedures resulting in services to our beneficiaries delivered with the highest level of professionalism and accountability. In his view, seeing the interest and commitment of the people attending this conference, this can be achieved. Wairimu Munyinyi, Concern Worldwide Sierra Leone: Wairimu pointed out that the humanitarian organisations can only go so far in dealing with perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse, and we need to think how we can engage government ­ especially law enforcement ­ agencies in the countries where we work. She acknowledged that there are challenges involved, but she highlighted that this is an opportunity for us to show our impartiality. She proposed that representatives of such government agencies be invited to the next PSEA conference, so that we can hear from them directly. She further noted that communities are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse in situations where they are trying to meet their most basic needs. She encouraged us to consider how effective our investments in the communities we work have been in raising people out of absolute poverty. Finally, she emphasized the value of complaints mechanisms, early warning, and information sharing as a way to prevent abuse from happening and to take prompt and effective action when incidents occur.


Statement of Commitment

Smruti Patel of HAP referred conference participants to the 2006 Statement of Commitment on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Non-UN Personnel (reaffirmed in 2008). It was pointed out that HAP's recent study on beneficiary perceptions shows that there has been some progress in addressing the issue but that there is still a long way to go. HAP put forward a draft Geneva Declaration as a way for agencies to re-focus and reenergise their efforts on taking forward the issue of prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers. The declaration was circulated to participants before the conference and HAP had already received some feedback from those who were concerned about some elements of the declaration. It was clarified that the required reporting should be to each organisation's own governance structure and not to HAP. It was shared that HAP members would be voting on a change in the statutes for membership requirement to include commitment to zero tolerance to SEA and reporting on their progress on dealing the issue at the GA on 12th of May. A number of organisations had already indicated that they would be prepared to sign the declaration before they attended the conference and others signed the declaration on the day. One participant raised a concern over wording of the declaration, in the view of this concern. HAP agreed to look at how this section might be rephrased. The new version would be re-circulated with the report. It left to the organisations to consult with their management and to show solidarity by signing the declaration voluntarily in their own time.

Closing remarks

Angela Raven-Roberts thanked all the participants, the Oak Foundation for funding the conference, the organizers, the panellists and working group facilitators, and those who had shared questions and suggestions. She stressed that this process of talking and thinking through things, sharing experience and keeping up to date helps to improve and take things forward on the complex issue of prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.


Annex I Geneva Declaration on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Action

We, the signatories hereto, are committed to upholding the right to protection and assistance by communities affected by crises and, particularly so, the right to protection against all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. Acknowledging that many factors can contribute to making humanitarian assistance susceptible to corruption and expose vulnerable communities to the risk of extortion and sexual exploitation and abuse; we welcome developments and strategies that organisations have put in place to combat corruption and the abuse of power in humanitarian settings and recognise a commitment to continual improvement of these endeavours. Today, we pledge ourselves to re-affirm our commitment to achieving full implementation of the 10 action points pledged in 2006 and recommitted to in 2008 by developing an organisational implementation plan with time bound indicators; take action to integrate safer programming and protection through organisational policies, codes of conduct and procedures that enable mechanisms and resources to be put in place across all our programmes that uphold the rights of people we seek assist; report annually on our achievements against the implementation plan in our annual report so our progress can be monitored by our stakeholders and to make the report publicly available so we can be held accountable for our commitments. work with others to advocate for a zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse through implementing joint mechanisms to reinforce policies that prevent sexual exploitation and abuse and protect the people we seek to assist. Accordingly, we, the undersigned, declare our determination to uphold the above principles and pledge to advocate and initiate actions in pursuit of them.


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