The UN has been playing a central role in the issue of SEA in conflict zones. Given its central role as the main violator of the norm, on the one hand and its role as the main provider of global norms, on the other, UN was put into a very difficult position, which triggered immediate response from the organization at multiple levels.
Reinicke and Deng (p.103) argues that “the United Nations must approach networking soberly. It must consider in every instance whether there is sufficient interest and whether it has sufficient capacity and comparative advantage to play a productive and worthwhile role in the network”. The very nature of the issue not only enabled the UN involvement to be productive but also made its involvement a “necessity”.
The central role that the UN has been playing dates back to the initial concerns that are raised about SEA. The first step that brought SEA in conflict zones into attention was based on a report prepared by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children-UK. Therefore, UNHCR is one of the important UN agencies that took a prominent role in the very beginning of the issue.
Following the initial attention that the issue attracted, the UN took another step and established “The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises” (IASC) which was composed of number of UN agencies and NGOs in 2002. In 2005, “The Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of the Executive Committees on Humanitarian Affairs and on Peace and Security (ECHA/ECPS) and NGOs took up the work of the IASC Task Force”. (OCHA) Many UN agencies take active part in these committees such as FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP.
However, the issue does not get UN’s attention only at agency level. At the highest level, – given the severity of the claims and its potential damage to the UN – in 2004 Secretary General Kofi Annan took a special interest in the issue invited H.R.H. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN, to act as his Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeeping Personnel. (OCHA)
The case of SEA in conflict zones exemplifies Reinicke and Deng’s argument which suggests that “UN agencies and staff may play various roles at the same time in a network, or the same agency may play various roles in various phases of the policy cycle” (p.99) For instance, in this case, the UN agencies were not only played the role of a provider of a platform and safe space (Reinicke and Deng, p.98) but also played the role of a norm entrepreneur (p.99) and a capacity builder (p.100). The UN involvement in this issue area also exemplifies the need for UN agencies to be specialized and coordinated for reaching better results, as it was argued by Reinicke and Deng (p.104).