Marie Deschamps to lead UN probe after child sex abuse allegations
The former Supreme Court justice will lead an investigation into UN procedures after peacekeepers accused of sexual abuse in Central African Republic.
By Olivia Ward, Toronto Star
June 23, 2015: Former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps tabled a damning report last month on sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian military.
Now she is moving on to an equally daunting task: as head of an independent investigation probing the UN’s failure to protect victims of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers.
It follows a child sexual abuse scandal involving French peacekeepers in the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR).
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed the panel, which includes Yasmin Sooka, a South African human rights activist who was on president Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Gambian lawyer Hassan Jallow, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Widely reported allegations of abuse of young boys in the CAR have become an escalating scandal for the UN. After the human rights commissioner’s office and UNICEF investigated allegations that peacekeepers exchanged food for sex from destitute children in May 2014, no formal investigation followed.
In July, a senior UN human rights official turned over the report to a French diplomat, asking for a halt to the abuse. France launched an investigation but the official, Anders Kompass, was temporarily suspended and accused of breaching confidentiality rules.
The events came under a glare of publicity when the charity AIDS-Free World — co-directed by Paula Donovan and Canadian advocate Stephen Lewis — leaked the UN report to the Guardian earlier this year.
The group campaigned for a full, system-wide investigation into the UN’s “crisis of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations.”
In a statement Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the new panel will have unlimited access to UN staff and documents to determine how the world body responded to the CAR allegations, as well as other allegations of abuse, and make recommendations for ending sexual wrongdoing by peacekeepers.
The probe will take 10 weeks, but may be extended.
The fast-track timetable may be aimed at bringing one of the UN’s worst embarrassments in recent years to a quick end. There are now 125,000 personnel serving in 16 peacekeeping operations worldwide.
A draft report released this month by a UN oversight body said that peacekeepers commonly buy sex from impoverished locals with cash, clothing, jewelry, perfume, cellphones and other items.
It said reports of sexual exploitation were ebbing, but pointed a finger at “complex architecture, prolonged delays, unknown and varying outcomes and severely deficient victim assistance,” for lax enforcement of peacekeeping rules.
The tangled events of the CAR case illustrate how difficult it may be for the new panel to navigate a path through entrenched bureaucracy and murky responsibility that have persisted even under the UN’s stated policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse.
“We urge the panel to take an uncompromising approach,” said a statement from AIDS-Free World’s Donovan. “Examine every avenue, including the system-wide failures of leadership, and fix what has plagued peacekeeping for decades.”
At a military force commanders’ conference last week, Ban said he welcomes the momentum for stronger action against abuse.
“Everybody must commit to ending this shameful problem, at headquarters, in the field and among member states,” he said, calling on commanders to “lead in creating a culture where such abhorrent behaviour should never happen and, if it does, the perpetrators are identified and punished.”