Sexual exploitation by aid workers against women in Syria and other war-torn countries continues, said a former UN employee. Picture: AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File

Brussels - Sexual exploitation by aid workers against women in Syria and other war-torn countries continues, as the United Nations and humanitarian sector organisations are ignoring the repeated cases of these human rights violations for years, a former UN employee told Sputnik.

The issue of sexual abuses by aid workers against residents of areas which had suffered from crises, natural disasters, and war has been in the spotlight of media and authorities across the world after the high-profile scandal at the UK-based international charity Oxfam.

The charity faced public outrage after it was revealed earlier in February that some of the charity staff, engaged in dealing with the consequences of the major earthquake in Haiti in 2010, were involved in sexual misconduct, bullying and intimidation against local residents​​​. Moreover, it was found that the charity had conducted its investigation into the situation back in 2011, but never disclosed its results.

Syria, which has been at war since 2011, is another high-profile case of sexual exploitation of women and girls by aid workers, which has recently been revealed by international organisations, as well as media.

DILUTED RESPONSIBILITY WITHIN UN

Yamin Soka, a former UN employee in Central Africa, told Sputnik that it was "very difficult to lead an investigation on sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces of UN personnel."

"In a sexual abuse case of young boys by the French troops involved in the Sangaris operation, near Bangui in the Central African Republic in 2014-2015, nothing much happened despite our investigation. The reporting lines are long and emails get lost between Geneva and New York," Soka said.

The former UN employee referred to a high-profile case when boys in Bangui told human rights officers working for United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and local United Nations Children's Fund is a United Nations (UNICEF) staff, that they had been abused by peacekeepers from the French international Sangaris forces in exchange for small amounts of food or cash.

Soka continued by citing repeated cases when people in charge of dealing with sexual abuse believe that another UN agency would tackle the problem.

"So the officer in charge makes a stern verbal note to the soldiers, there is some psychological support provided by children or women protection advisers of the UN, but the fragmented responsibility makes it that nobody is punished," Soka pointed out.

HUMANITARIAN SECTOR SACRIFICES WOMEN TO ENSURE AID DELIVERY

Charity worker Danielle Spencer told the BBC broadcaster in an interview, revealed on Tuesday, that she had known about cases of sexual exploitation in Syria in 2015, from Syrian women to whom she had talked to in a Jordanian refugee camp.

"It was so endemic that they couldn't actually go without being stigmatized. It was assumed that if you go to these [humanitarian aid] distributions, that you will have performed some kind of sexual act in return for aid," Spencer said.

Also in 2015, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) revealed its report, based on interviews with 190 women and girls from Syrian Daraa and Quneitra provinces, stating that over 40 percent of them had experienced sexual violence while trying to access humanitarian assistance.

In July 2015, the information about sex abuse of women by aid workers in Syria was communicated to UN agencies and international charities at a meeting hosted by the UNPFA in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

However, sexual violence on behalf of aid workers in the Middle Eastern country continues.

"There were credible reports of sexual exploitation and abuse going on during the cross-border aid delivery and the UN didn't make any serious moves to address it or end it," a source who had participated in the meeting told the broadcaster.

In November, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) revealed a report entitled "Voices from Syria 2018."

"The assessments confirmed that women and girls face sexual exploitation. Poverty, displacement, being head of the household, coupled with gender inequalities are all understood to contribute to this form of gender-based violence … Participants described scenarios in which men in positions of power abuse their authority to make sexual advances on women and girls in exchange for goods or services necessary for survival," the report read.

Women and girls "without male protectors," such as widows, divorcees, and displaced females are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation by local NGOs employees distributing aid on behalf of international agencies, the report noted.

In Syria, in many cases of sexual violence, the blame is put on the shoulders of women, prompting them not to disclose the facts that they had been abused in order to avoid punishment, the report added.

The humanitarian organizations have turned a blind eye to such blatant human rights violations to ensure continuing distribution of aid in Syria, Spencer suggested.

"Sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls has been ignored, it's been known about and ignored for seven years. The UN and the system as it currently stands have chosen for women's bodies to be sacrificed," the charity worker said.

Spencer suggested that there must has been a decision made that women could be sacrificed in order for aid to be delivered.

Sputnik