UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations on Thursday proposed a series of new steps aimed at stamping out sex abuse by peacekeepers as a report showed an increase in abuse allegations.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an annual report that there had been a total of 145 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving troops and civilians across all UN peace missions in 2016, up from 99 in 2015.
The increase is partly explained by the fact that more victims are coming forward, said the report.
The United Nations has been badly shaken by the wave of allegations of sex abuse by the troops it deploys in missions with a clear mandate to protect civilians.
Guterres, who took the UN helm in January, said the United Nations "continues to grapple with the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse, despite great efforts over many years to address it."
Four missions have the highest numbers of cases: MINUSCA in the Central African Republic, MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSTAH in Haiti, and UNMISS in South Sudan.
Under UN rules, it is up to troop-contributing countries to take action against their nationals who face credible allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation while serving under the UN flag.
In his report, Guterres proposed that payments to countries that fail to investigate allegations involving their troops should be withheld, and that those amounts could be instead directed to a victims' trust fund.
UN officials told a press conference that this measure had already begun to be implemented, with some $49,000 in withheld funds ready to be transferred to the victims' fund.
Guterres called for appointing a special human rights expert who would report directly to the UN chief to be a victims' rights advocate.
In the four missions plagued by high incidence of sexual abuse, the UN chief proposed that a victims' rights advocate be named as part of UN personnel.
A team of special investigators should be created to better respond to the allegations, the report said.
Human rights groups have complained about the lack of accountability for peacekeepers serving in UN missions. Many have avoided investigation altogether or received light punishment.