By Md. Kamruzzaman
DHAKA, Bangladesh: A two-day United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial (UNPKM) Preparatory Meeting on Women in Peacekeeping concluded in Bangladesh’s Capital Dhaka on Monday with speakers vowing zero tolerance against sexual harassment and discrimination against women in any professions including the UN Peacekeeping mission.
On the occasion of the international gathering, the UN under-secretary-general for peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, along with other high-profile officials mostly from the defense sectors of many countries including Canada, Germany, Uruguay, Ghana, Jordan, and Bangladesh attended the two-day program divided into seven inclusive sessions excluding the opening and closing ones.
Bangladesh, Canada, and Uruguay jointly organized this first preparatory conference in advance of the 2023 UN Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting under Ghana’s leadership scheduled on December 5-6, 2023 in Accra, Ghana.
The representatives from the UN troop and police-contributing countries, and peacekeeping experts who joined at different sessions discussed progress, challenges, and good practices on increasing women’s meaningful participation in UN peacekeeping.
According to some written documents served among over a hundred participants noted that the sessions in the two-day assembly covered a broad range of topics including understanding barriers and obstacles to women’s participation in peacekeeping, enhancing the meaningful participation and deployment of women in peacekeeping, and gender-responsive leadership and inclusive teams.
“This preparatory meeting will also cover conduct and discipline among peacekeepers, including conduct that can negatively impact an enabling work environment for women peacekeepers such as discrimination and sexual harassment,” said the written document also collected by this journalist.
Some other issues discussed in the meeting are creating an enabling environment for gender equality in peacekeeping, effective partnerships for strengthening accountability, achieving and implementing the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy (UGPS), and developing concrete pledges to address existing challenges.
Zero tolerance for sexual harassment
While addressing the concluding session, Lacroix emphasized notable changes in the military, police, and institutes working for ensuring justice worldwide as well as in UN Peacekeeping missions.
Underlining concrete actions against any discrimination and sexual harassment of women, he said that the concerned departments of the UN are working very hard to enforce the UN policy to halt sexual harassment.
“We expect [UN] member states will do the same. We all must make plans to halt sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse very seriously and make every effort to swiftly investigate those and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said the UN peace operations boss.
Meanwhile, the top UN peace operation official in an email reply to a local human rights organization, said that anyone guilty of human rights abuses should not be allowed in UN Peace operations.
Sanjida Islam, a coordinator of the organization locally called “Maayer Daak (Mother’s Call)” on Monday (June 26, 2023) informed local media that Lacroix had received a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of the organization and read it on the previous day (Sunday).
“For our engagement with communities to be successful, a prerequisite of almost all that we do, it remains imperative that all peacekeepers uphold the highest levels of conduct as well as the highest standards of integrity, competency and efficiency,” Sanjida quoted Lacroix as saying in his email reply that she shared with media. This journalist also managed to collect it.
She said that the UN peace operations official had assured them that for being recruited into the UN Peacekeeping mission a clean image and not guilty of human rights violation was a must.
“Accordingly, all troop and police-contributing countries are required by the UN to certify upon deployment or rotation of personnel that no individual being deployed has committed or been alleged to have committed violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Sanjida quoted Lacroix as saying.
Sanjida is the sister of a victim of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh, Sajedul Islam Shumon, who was allegedly disappeared forcefully by the members of Bangladesh police in December 2013 a few days before the country’s national election in January 2014.
According to this organization, 623 people, mostly men from the opposition parties and government critics, were the victims of enforced disappearance under the ruling Awami League government since 2009.
New York-based international rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, in a 57-page report in 2021 titled, Where No Sun Can Enter: A Decade of Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh, noted that, despite credible and consistent evidence that Bangladesh security forces routinely commit enforced disappearances, the ruling Awami League has ignored calls by donor governments, the UN, human rights organizations, and civil society to address the culture of impunity.
The top government officials of Bangladesh including the home minister, however, have publicly denied the allegations several times, claiming that people sometimes willingly hide themselves due to various grounds including domestic discords or to dodge charges after committing crimes and some of such cases have been proved truth later.
A global problem
According to World Population Review data of “Rape Statistics by Country 2020”, it is estimated that approximately 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual harassment in their life.
No countries either developed or developing or under-developed are out of this problem of sexual harassment of women.
So far 70% of rape is committed by someone known to the victims in the United States and women ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault while female college students ages 18-24 are three times more likely to experience sexual assault.
According to a report published by The USA Today in January 2019 with the headline “Sexual assault, harassment spikes at military academies, strategies fail to stem crisis” noted that incidents of sexual assault at U.S. military academies spiked nearly 50 percent in the past school year despite years of focus on the problem and declarations of zero tolerance.
Citing a survey conducted by the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, the report said that the number of students reporting unwanted sexual contact totaled 747 in the 2017-18 academic year, compared with 507 in 2015-16.
“We’re disheartened and disappointed that the things and the strategies that we’ve employed just really aren’t getting the results that we want,” the report quoted Nathan Galbreath, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, as saying.
Regarding neighboring India, the report added that the South Asian nation recorded an average of 87 rape cases daily in 2019.
In the prevailing situation, the written document at the two-day conference noted that troop and police-contributing countries in the UN Peacekeeping mission “also have an obligation to certify to the Secretariat that individuals to be deployed as military or police personnel in a UN field mission have no criminal record, records of prior misconduct or records of human rights violations.”
The closing session was also addressed by Md. Kamrul Ahsan, Additional Inspector General of Bangladesh Police, Catherine Polland, UN Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, Ambassador Luis Bermudez, Director General for Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Uruguay and Ulric Shannon, Director General of the Peace and Stabilizations Operations Program at the Global Affairs in Canada.
Earlier, the opening session on Sunday was addressed among others by Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, Inspector General of Bangladesh Police.
Note: The writer is an Asia-based prize-winning freelance journalist who mainly writes on diplomacy, refugee, human rights, and climate change. https://twitter.com/mkbablu