Below are descriptions of terms and concepts that are frequently used on this website. These explanations are based on a common understanding of terminology that was developed in 2016 as a collaborative effort between a wide variety of offices, departments, agencies, funds and programmes in the United Nations system.



For UN staff members, misconduct may arise through the failure by a staff member to comply with his or her obligations under the Charter of the United Nations, the Staff Regulations and Staff Rules or other relevant administrative issuances or to observe the standards of conduct expected of an international civil servant. Sexual exploitation and abuse constitutes serious misconduct and may lead to the institution of a disciplinary process and the imposition of disciplinary measures.

For UN military contingent personnel, misconduct means any act or omission that is a violation of United Nations Standards of Conduct, mission-specific rules and regulations or the obligations towards national and local laws and regulations in accordance with the status of forces agreement or status of mission agreement where the impact is outside the national contingent of military forces or UN mission. Misconduct is considered serious, when it includes criminal acts that result in or are likely to result in, serious loss, damage or injury to an individual or to a mission. Sexual exploitation and abuse constitutes serious misconduct.

For personnel other than those mentioned above, misconduct is defined as per the instruments that regulate their conduct.


United Nations personnel

United Nations officials, including United Nations staff members, United Nations Volunteers, United Nations Experts on Mission, including military experts on mission (UNMEM), Civilian Police Officers (UNPOL), members of United Nations Formed Police Units (FPUs) and police advisers, Government Provided Personnel, United Nations military staff officers and members of United Nations military contingents.


Zero-tolerance policy

The United Nations policy establishing that sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel is prohibited and that every transgression will be acted upon.



Information provided, whether by a complainant or any other person (source), indicating conduct that may be in breach of the UN Standards of conduct but that has yet to be assessed.



Uncorroborated information pointing to the possible occurrence of misconduct.



A situation requiring the attention and possible action of a person who has become aware of it.

For the Office of Internal Oversight Services, this means a matter predicated for investigation, normally after an assessment. A single case may relate to several alleged perpetrators and/or victims.


Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. All sexual activity with a child (under 18 years of age) is considered as sexual abuse.


Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is any actual or attempted abuse of position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another. This includes acts such as transactional sex, solicitation of transactional sex, and exploitative relationships.


Exploitative relationship

An exploitative relationship is a relationship that constitutes sexual exploitation, i.e. any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another.


Transactional sex

The exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex, including sexual favours, other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behaviour. This includes any exchange of assistance that is due to beneficiaries of assistance.


Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation, when such conduct interferes with work, is made a condition of employment or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment may occur in the workplace or in connection with work.


Date of incident

Date or period during which the reported breach of the UN Standards of Conduct took place.



A legally based and analytical process designed to gather information in order to determine whether wrongdoing occurred and, if so, the persons or entities responsible. Matters involving police and civilian personnel are investigated by the United Nations.

For military contingent personnel, in accordance with the revised model memorandum of understanding, endorsed by the General Assembly in 2007, where an allegation involves military contingent personnel, the troop-contributing country is informed of the allegations and requested to indicate whether it intends to appoint national investigation officers to conduct the investigation into reported allegations. If no reply is received within the set timeline, the United Nations will conduct its own investigation into the matter. If the information received is found not to be credible enough to warrant investigation, the United Nations will undertake further verification. In such cases, the allegation will be marked as “UN review”. If the information received is not sufficient to warrant an investigation, the matter will be marked as “For information”.


National Investigation Officer

One or more individuals designated by a troop contributing country (TCC) to a United Nations field mission to conduct an investigation into an allegation referred to a TCC. This definition is limited to investigations conducted under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for TCC’s and does not apply to investigations referred to member states under different processes (i.e. non-UN forces)



A person who brings an allegation to the attention of the UN in accordance with established procedures, but whose claim has not yet been established through a United Nations administrative process or Member States’ processes, as appropriate.


Victim (in the context of sexual exploitation and abuse)

A person who is, or has been, sexually exploited or abused by United Nations staff or related personnel and the allegation has been established through a United Nations administrative process or Member States’ processes, as appropriate.



A person under the age of 18, regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally.


Alleged perpetrator

A person or entity who/that is the focus of an investigation.



An investigation concluded that there is sufficient evidence to establish that misconduct occurred.



The available evidence was insufficient to allow for an investigation to be completed or the investigation concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that misconduct occurred. The available evidence may be insufficient for a variety of reasons and such a finding does not necessarily mean that the allegation was false.


False complaint

Intentionally providing false or misleading information.


Criminal accountability

The concept that prohibited behaviour can violate criminal law and consequently lead to a criminal procedure before an established court system.