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Top UN officials ignored child sexual abuse, plotted removal of senior UN human rights official

— New leaks of internal documents and emails show high-level UN staff knew of CAR abuse and failed to act, plotted Anders Kompass’ removal

Read AIDS-Free World’s full statement here and view the previously unseen UN documents.
Download a PDF version of this statement.

May 29, 2015 (New York) — AIDS-Free World has obtained several previously unreleased internal UN documents, memos, and emails that implicate high-level United Nations officials in ignoring documented child sex abuse by international peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR), of making no attempt to stop the ongoing crimes or protect children, and then attempting to cover up the UN’s inaction.

UN interviews with child victims of sexual abuse first surfaced on April 29, 2015 after AIDS-Free World leaked the document to the Guardian newspaper. Printed on the letterhead of MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, the interviews detail multiple cases of forced oral sex and anal rape by troops from France, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad.

Additional internal documents that AIDS-Free World is releasing today show that as early as May 19th, 2014, officials in MINUSCA, in the UN’s Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and in UNICEF knew that peacekeepers working closely with the UN were regularly preying on hungry 8- to 15-year-old boys, promising them food and cash. UN staff continued to document the children’s testimonies and collect evidence while higher-ranking officials who were handed each completed interview neither alerted authorities nor intervened to prevent further crimes. A final compilation of interviews only made its way to New York and Geneva in mid-July, two months after the interviewing began.

Over the following months, the cumulative leaked documents show that upwards of 30 key UN staff were directly informed of ongoing violations of children, but did not sound the alarm or make efforts to protect them from further abuse. On the contrary, the written testimonies of officials looking back nearly a year later show a striking pattern of indifference toward the victims.

“The documents indicate a total failure of the UN to act on claims of sexual abuse, even when they know that UN involvement might be the surest route to stopping crimes and ensuring justice. That was certainly the case here: if the UN had immediately handed over what they’d learned from the children, including detailed physical descriptions of the soldiers, the criminals might be in jail today, and untold numbers of additional children might have been spared abuse,” said Paula Donovan, AIDS-Free World’s co-director. “Instead, there was utter silence for months until one UN official, Anders Kompass, transmitted all he knew to the government of France in late July, which launched a preliminary investigation.”

At that point, statements by UN staff reveal that top officials in OHCHR and the Executive Office of the Secretary-General knew of the abuse in early August 2014. The Office of Legal Affairs was also made aware at that time when French investigators attempted to further query the OHCHR and UNICEF staff members who had spoken with the children. Instead of cooperating fully with the French investigation, the UN refused to make those key witnesses available for questioning, insisting instead on receiving written questions to which they would provide written answers. The French investigation stalled.

Over the next months and into 2015, the sexual abuse became known to dozens of UN officials; still, no action was taken to alert the Central African Republic authorities, stop the abuse, or warn at-risk civilians. Member States were not informed, although a separate International Commission of Inquiry into the Central African Republic had specifically said that, “The Secretary-General’s periodic reports on peacekeeping operations in the CAR should include an analysis of any violations that are alleged to have been committed by both UN peace-keepers and non-UN peacekeepers authorized by the Security Council.The abuses remained a secret of the UN and the French.

But in March 2015, an ill-timed attempt to push Anders Kompass out of his jobusing grounds that he had circumvented official protocols eight months earlier when he’d transmitted the interviews to the Frenchhad unforeseen consequences. Kompass refused to resign and threatened to go public, creating the sudden fear among UN officials that their failure to act on child sex abuse would be exposed.

Silence could only be maintained by an administrative process: Kompass would be barred from speaking out during an ongoing investigation into his conduct and his future. The Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Susana Malcorra, arranged an informal meeting for the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and his Deputy, Flavia Pansieri, with the two senior officials responsible for investigating staff: Ethics Office Director Joan Dubinsky and Under-Secretary-General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) Carman Lapointe. Both their departments are meant to be independent, maintaining impartial distance from senior management and the staff members who are subjects of internal investigations. In emails exchanged shortly after that informal meeting, the plan to bypass due process and investigate Kompass for his ‘leak’ is exposed.

Carman Lapointe’s Director of Investigations expressed his concerns about her circumvention of the rules—initiating an investigation before his unit had assessed the evidence that one was warranted. Lapointe responded that the matter had been decided. The Director recused himself; when Member States later asked Lapointe why, she claimed not to know.

At present, the Kompass story is still incomplete. He currently remains under internal investigation for alleged malfeasance. But the investigation is clearly suspect: documents show that the senior officials of the UN have decided the outcome in advance. They are determined to remove him from office, thus breaking all their due process procedures.

What has happened to Anders Kompass is a mirror of everything that’s wrong with the UN’s handling of sexual exploitation and abuse.

What emerges is clear: since the first interviews with child sex abuse victims were taken, senior UN officials have devoted far more time and energy silencing a staff member who might expose their inaction than protecting children from harm.

“What this saga and these leaks reveal about the UN leadership is a complete absence of checks and balances. The world is in trouble if neither peacekeepers nor the UN’s top leadership take ‘zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse’ seriously,” says Paula Donovan. “The CAR case perfectly illustrates a system-wide problem, and just as clearly points to the solution: Member States must initiate a truly independent external investigation into the entire UN’s handling of peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse. The future of the UN depends on it.”

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AIDS-Free World is an international advocacy organization that exposes injustice, abuse and inequality, the social ills that underpin and continue to sustain HIV. We apply high-level advocacy, targeted legal strategies and creative communication to work for a more just world. To learn more about our Code Blue Campaign, visit www.codebluecampaign.com