Taking action to prevent and address staff sexual misconduct

23 February 2018

Statement from ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord 

Is the International Committee of the Red Cross serious about the issue of sexual misconduct by its personnel? That is the question being asked by current and former ICRC colleagues who know as well as anyone that our organization, like others in the humanitarian sector, must confront this behaviour.

I want to assure everyone that the answer is: Yes, we are absolutely serious. There is no place for any form of discrimination, harassment or abuse in this organization.

I must also accept that this is a moment of deep humility for us, as we endeavour to assess the scope of this problem and address failings.

I want to tell you what action we have taken in recent years, where we stand today and how the organization will deal with this issue going forward.

First, know this: We are committed to strengthening our mechanisms to deal with any breaches of the ICRC's Code of Conduct, and to building an inclusive and diverse internal culture where everyone is respected.

Our response to recent misconduct

The decentralized management system we have used for decades is our established way to make life-and-death decisions on field security and aid delivery. But when this approach is applied to managing misconduct, it is difficult to accurately compile overall figures.

I have instructed my teams to scour the data we do have on sexual misconduct, and I can tell you that since 2015 we've identified 21 staff members who were either dismissed for paying for sexual services or resigned during an internal enquiry. Another two staff members suspected of sexual misconduct did not have their contracts renewed. I am deeply saddened to report these numbers.

This behaviour is a betrayal of the people and the communities we are there to serve. It is against human dignity and we should have been more vigilant in preventing this.

The ICRC has more than 17,000 staff members worldwide. We are concerned that incidents that should be reported have not yet been reported, or were reported but not properly handled. We are taking action to address this.

Procedures to handle misconduct allegations

All staff are contractually bound by the ICRC's Code of Conduct, which explicitly forbids the purchase of sexual services. This ban, in place since 2006, applies worldwide and at all times, including in locations where prostitution is legal, as the ICRC believes that staff paying for sex is incompatible with the values and mission of the organization.

In spring 2017, we created the Global Compliance Office, tasked with monitoring and enforcing staff adherence to the Code of Conduct. This office manages complaints and allegations confidentially and functions independently. Before that we created a worldwide ombudsman network to which staff can turn for advice and support.

These mechanisms are designed to give us an overview of all misconduct cases and provide institutional oversight. They should ensure overall coherence and fairness in the application of the rules.

My pledge to the people we serve and to our staff is that complaints and allegations will be acted upon firmly and consistently. Any employee found to have violated the Code of Conduct will be held accountable.

Fostering a culture of respect

The measures we have taken so far are important, but we need to do more to address unacceptable behaviour. Our current processes and systems are under constant review.

We must also be humble, listen intently to communities and staff, and acknowledge the cultural shift required for this organization.

I am indebted to the ICRC colleagues who have driven what at times is an uncomfortable but extremely necessary conversation about the need for change. We will continue these conversations by organizing different engagement platforms in our delegations and at headquarters. They will in turn inform our decisions on how to collectively improve.

In addition, I have contacted other humanitarian organizations with the aim of addressing issues that require a collective effort, such as preventing offenders from moving undetected among agencies.

I am committed to fostering an ICRC culture that encourages staff to prevent, detect and report misconduct. All allegations are investigated. People must feel safe and empowered to raise concerns, and we have encouraged staff to make use of a dedicated, confidential email address to do so.

It is so important that the silence that has surrounded this issue has been shattered. This is a watershed moment for the humanitarian sector as a whole. We owe it to the people we serve to behave with absolute integrity.