UN slammed for ‘gross failure’ over CAR abuse allegations
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The United Nations was rebuked for a "gross" failure to act on allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic, in a report by an independent panel released Thursday.
In a 100-page 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 set up the panel in June following a furor 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 it was leaked to the media in April this year.
"The manner in which UN agencies responded to the allegations was seriously flawed" it 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.
Senior UN officials came under fire including rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Ban's chief of staff at the time Susana Malcorra, and UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous 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, the head of the internal oversight office who has since retired, it said 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 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.
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.
Even after France learned of the allegations involving its troops of the Sangaris force and asked UN officials for cooperation, "these requests were met with resistance and became bogged down in formalities," the report said.
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.
Aside from Deschamps, the panel included Hassan Jallow of Gambia, a prosecutor of the UN tribunal for Rwanda, and Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa.