New York - Secretary General Antonio Guterres said sexual abuse is a problem that goes beyond peacekeeping missions and plagues the entire United Nations, pledging on Monday to root out the problem "once and for all".The leaders of 57 countries joined a group established by Guterres to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation, the centrepiece of a high-level meeting to showcase the world body's commitment to fighting a scourge that has darkened the reputation of peacekeeping missions around the world.They included many of the countries whose military personnel have been accused of sex crimes while serving on UN peacekeeping missions. Some of the nations have yet to punish any alleged perpetrators."We are here to take bold, urgent and much-needed action to root out sexual exploitation and abuse once and for all in the United Nations," Guterres said.The Associated Press launched an investigative series in March on the UN's peacekeeping crisis, uncovering roughly 2 000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation during a 12-year period. Most of the allegations were against peacekeepers, but other UN agencies were also involved.Guterres said he has "been haunted by my many encounters with women and children scarred by sexual violence and further stigmatised sometimes by their own communities".He stressed that "sexual exploitation and abuse is not a problem of peacekeeping, it is a problem of the entire United Nations."We cannot allow the unspeakable acts of a few to tarnish the work of thousands of men and women who uphold the values of the United Nations Charter, often at great personal risk and sacrifice," Guterres said.In March, the secretary general announced new measures to tackle the problem, including a new focus on victims and bans on alcohol and fraternisation for troops.On Monday, he announced that 75 countries have signed or pledged to sign a separate compact committing to preventing sexual abuse. He also introduced the first UN rights advocate for victims, Australian lawyer and human rights advocate Jane Connors.Code Blue campaignHanging over the meeting were new allegations that the UN mishandled 14 abuse cases involving peacekeepers in Central African Republic.The cases cited by the Code Blue campaign, a watchdog group, were investigated last year to determine whether the allegations could be substantiated.Code Blue said that in eight cases the alleged victims were not interviewed, and 10 cases did not appear on the UN website where data is supposed to be released about sexual misconduct cases.UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday that a preliminary inquiry determined seven of the cases were recorded in the tracking system and had been acted upon. He provided no other details, but said a full investigation is in progress.Code Blue criticised the measures announced on Monday, saying it saw little difference from pledges made by the UN at a similar event more than a decade ago. The group proposed that UN member states create an independent court mechanism to investigate allegations.The UN lacks legal jurisdiction over its peacekeeping force and relies on member states to prosecute crimes by their own troops, making justice elusive in many cases.