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UN slammed for 'gross failure' to act on sex abuse allegations against troops

It was alleged that French troops had forced children to perform sexual acts in exchange for food.

File photo
File photo
Image: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

AN INDEPENDENT PANEL sharply rebuked the United Nations today for “gross institutional failure” to act on allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic.

In a long-awaited report, the panel described a breakdown in UN leadership on the ground in Bangui followed by missteps by senior officials in Geneva and New York after the allegations were leaked.

“The end result was a gross institutional failure to respond to the allegations in a meaningful way,” said the hard-hitting report by the three-member panel led by Canadian judge Marie Deschamps.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he accepted the findings of the panel set up following a furore over allegations that French troops had forced children to perform sexual acts in exchange for food at a camp near Bangui, from December 2013 to June 2014.

The findings confirmed that a report by a UN rights official detailing the allegations sat on desks for months until a newspaper report in April sparked outrage over the case.

“The manner in which UN agencies responded to the allegations was seriously flawed” the report said.

“Information about the allegations was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations.”

The report singled out the former UN mission chief in CAR as well as officials from the UN human rights office and the children’s agency UNICEF in Bangui for failing to report the claims to their superiors or taking steps to help the children.

“No steps whatsoever were taken to find the children, relocate them out of the M’Poko camp or assess their security needs until May 2015,” it said.

The head of the UN peace mission, Babacar Gaye of Senegal, was fired in August over his handling of the allegations.

Two of the three officials who were found to have abused their office have left their posts, including Gaye. The third official is still working at the UN mission in Bangui, although not as a human rights officer.

“Given the gravity of these findings, I will act quickly to determine what action might be necessary,” said Ban.

‘Whistleblower’ cleared 

Senior UN officials came under fire, including rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Ban’s chief of staff at the time Susana Malcorra who pushed for an investigation of the UN rights official involved in leaking the report.

While the panel concluded there was no abuse of office by those senior officials, it said the head of the internal oversight office who has since retired, Carman Lapointe, “failed to meet her duty” to carefully review the facts before launching an investigation.

It also found that the human rights official, Anders Kompass, “did not act outside of his scope of authority” when he leaked the report on the allegations to the French authorities.

Kompass, described as the whistleblower in the affair, long maintained that he had passed on the document out of concern that the allegations were not being handled.

“Instead of reporting the allegations as an urgent matter… they were kept quiet,” Deschamps told a news conference.

“It took months before France was given details of the allegations.”

Ban’s special envoy for children in conflict, Leila Zerrougi, was harshly criticized in the report, which said she “took no steps” to follow up on the allegations with UNICEF and France until they were reported in the media.

At least 14 French soldiers are under investigation over the allegations of sexual abuse involving children, mostly boys, aged 8 to 13.

The accusations also target troops from Chad and Equatorial Guinea who served in an African Union-led mission that was deployed under a UN Security Council mandate, but not under UN command.

The AU force was taken over by the United Nations in September 2014, and allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by peacekeepers have since continued.

The panel recommended that all allegations of sexual violence be immediately reported and that a professional team of investigators be set up to deal specifically with cases involving sexual violence by peacekeepers.

- © AFP 2015.

Read: Man who ‘stole his daughter’s innocence’ by sexually abusing her sentenced to seven years>

Read: Bishop apologises for alleged child abuse by former parish priest>

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