The UN Security Council on Friday adopted the first-ever resolution aimed at tackling alleged sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.
The resolution is meant to put pressure on countries that contribute troops to peacekeeping missions to investigate, prosecute and publicly disclose the outcome of sexual abuse allegations against their personnel.
The resolution endorses UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's decision to send home a military or police unit of a peacekeeping contingent "where there is credible evidence of widespread and systematic sexual exploitation and abuse."
The text also urges countries to "take concrete steps" to prevent and combat impunity for sexual abuse. Peacekeepers often have enjoyed an exemption from prosecution for crimes committed while on UN mission.
Samanatha Power, US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution sends a clear message to the victims, peacekeepers and troop-contributing countries that sexual abuse will not go unpunished.
"To the victim of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, we pledge that we will do better," Power said.
"We will do better to ensure that the blue helmets that we send as your protectors will not become perpetrators."
Matthew Rycroft, British ambassador to the UN, said the council must face the reality of sexual abuse and confront it.
"The most harrowing abuse demands the most steadfast response," Rycroft said. "Each and every victim could tell us that for too long our response has fallen short."
The resolution calls on Ban to replace any peacekeeping unit if a country fails to investigate allegations, if it fails to punish perpetrators or if it does not notify the UN of the progress of its investigation or actions taken.
The council adopted the US-drafted text with 14 votes in favour and an abstention from Egypt, which, speaking on behalf of troop-contributing countries, opposed the replacement of units based on meeting just one of the criteria outlined.
Before the vote, Egypt sought to amend the resolution to make it necessary for all three conditions to be met before the UN could replace troops, saying that otherwise it would lead to "arbitrary, unobjective decisions amounting to collective punishment" against peacekeepers.
The US and eight other countries rejected the amendment.
Power said the proposed amendment would have undermined the purpose of the resolution.
However, Russia said it was "concerned" that council members "ignored the logic" of the proposed amendment noting that the voice of troop-contributing countries (TCCs) should have been heard.
Peter Iliichev, Russian deputy ambassador to the UN, said it was "wrong" to pit the council against troop contributors.
Amr Aboulatta, Egyptian ambassdor to the UN, said after the vote that his country abstained because the resolution "libeled" troops and troop contributors in a way that was "unacceptable."
"It drastically and negatively affects the morale of the troops," Aboulatta said.
"It also demonstrates contempt for the sacrifices of tens of thousands of peacekeeping personnel operating under extremely difficult conditions."
He noted that the issue should have been handled at the UN General Assembly, where all troop contributors are present and can have a say in the decision.
The council put the issue on its agenda after Ban released a report last week publicly disclosing for the first time the nationalities of UN military and police personnel involved in sexual abuse allegations.
According to the report, a total of 69 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation were made against civilian staff and military and police personnel from 21 countries deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in 2015.
The allegations came from 10 UN peacekeeping missions, with 22 cases reported in the Central African Republic alone.