Towards a NATO policy on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse

Opening remarks by NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller

  • 14 Jan. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Jan. 2019 11:04

(As prepared)

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller

Let me begin by thanking Minister Baldwin for hosting us today. And by warmly welcoming everyone here to help kick-off the development of the first comprehensive NATO policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.

I have the honor to open this two-day workshop, on a topic that is personally very close to my heart, and publically very high on the agenda.

We’ve all seen the huge momentum for calling time on sexual violence across our societies. But sexual violence is not a new phenomenon. And no nation or organization is immune.

NATO has been working for many years to put women, peace and security at the forefront of our agenda. This can be seen in our policies, in our political debates, and in our missions and operations.

We already have extensive pre-deployment training on gender equality for NATO soldiers and civilians in the field. We’re training partner militaries around the world. And we deploy gender advisors in our operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The revised Policy and Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security we adopted last year sets ambitious goals for gender equality. The policy has been developed with our Allies, partners and civil society.

At its heart are the principles of integration, inclusiveness and integrity, in line with our core values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

In 2019 we are extending the scope of gender equality to other areas. We will work even more closely with the international community and civil society. And we will continue to promote women’s participation, especially at the leadership level in both our military and political staff.

We will also honor the commitment undertaken by nations in our revised Policy and Action Plan to develop NATO’s first dedicated policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. That’s what these two days are all about.

NATO prides itself on being a gold standard organization and a community of values. Our code of conduct already holds all NATO staff to high personal and professional standards across the board.

In order to maintain this gold standard, we need to be equally ambitious when it comes to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse – which means applying a zero tolerance approach. This is particularly important because it involves the misuse of power over the most vulnerable - those who put their trust in us to defend them.

That’s why the Secretary General and I are personally so committed to working with nations to develop this policy, and to launch it without delay.

We need a robust policy that defines what behaviors are unacceptable, how we will prevent them, and how as a nation-led organization we will work collectively to ensure accountability.

We need a clear approach: one that considers the needs of victims and survivors, and ensures the trust and confidence of our own citizens and the host countries in which we are operating.

This isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It’s about raising the bar even higher. NATO already has existing military guidelines prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse. And many nations and organizations have clearly defined policies in place.

So I am particularly pleased to welcome representatives from our nations.

And I am looking forward to hearing about how the United Nations and the European Union are working to combat sexual exploitation and abuse in their organizations. I hope that we can draw on your experience, build on existing good practice, and adapt it to the NATO context.

I am also pleased that we will hear from a number of civil society organizations and experts, who can give us greater insights into the impact of sexual exploitation and abuse on victims and survivors. This will help us to define the areas we should focus on, to ensure a robust and effective policy.

This workshop marks the start of this process. It’s about listening, learning, and beginning to develop NATO’s policy together. There’s a lot for us to consider, so I’d like to focus our minds on a few key issues.

Firstly, we need to clearly define what we mean by sexual exploitation and abuse. Several definitions already exist, based on the 2003 United Nations definition. I know that the UN is in the process of reviewing its own policy. So we need to ask ourselves whether that definition still holds, and how to adapt it to our NATO context.

Secondly, we need to focus on prevention, because prevention is always better than cure. We need to put in place mechanisms to protect the host population, and mitigate risks to NATO, through adequate training, risk management, and awareness raising.

And finally, we need think about how the policy will work in practice: how to ensure that it is implementable and delivers the accountability intended. Given the expertise and experience we have in the room, I know that you will make a great deal of progress.

The start of a New Year is always a good opportunity for new beginnings. So as NATO steps boldly into 2019, I am proud that we’re embarking on some new commitments in this arena.

Thank you very much and I look forward to some great outcomes.