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Project January 29, 2018

The U.N.’s Humanitarian Crisis


In a lengthy investigation, May Jeong identified numerous cases of sexual harassment, assault, and other abuses of power across the United Nations system.

Nearly all of the women she has spoken with said the U.N. fell short on its public promise of championing gender equality. Many said they were especially aggrieved that the predators were allowed to keep working. In many cases, the assailant was often moved to a different post, as was the case for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Zimbabwe, or worse, promoted, as was the case for the same office in Afghanistan.

Long after charges were filed or concerns were raised informally, these men continued to lead the U.N. office in Ukraine, assist refugees in Greece, and work towards a peace settlement in South Sudan. In one instance, a U.N. worker with a history of predation was tasked to conduct a mission-wide survey on sexual harassment.

These women found that the internal system was biased against applicants, with no regard for privacy, and eye toward building a case that would stand in court of law. Because the U.N. is not subject to national laws, its employees had to rely on internal justice systems that were plagued with conflicts of interest.

The investigators were often their superiors or colleagues, who might be the assailants themselves, mirroring the problems in other parallel justice systems such as the ones existing in the military or on college campuses. These cases metastasized into bureaucratic nightmares, and in some instances, investigations continued into its fifth or sixth year, with no recourse for justice.