Christina Magill,, +1-646-924-1710

The UN provided new evidence today that it can't solve its peacekeeper sex abuse crisis from within

January 29, 2016: At two separate press briefings today, one in New York and one in Geneva, the UN announced several “new” allegations of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic perpetrated by UN and non-UN peacekeepers. Officials disclosed a long list of crimes, all committed against children between one and two years ago, but just unearthed this month by a joint UN team sent back to the scene of violent child sex crimes that were originally documented by the UN in 2014, then ignored and hidden for close to a year. The announcement of more allegations brought with it the now-commonplace expressions of pained alarm, the usual laments by UN officials over the failures of unnamed governments to prosecute the accused, and renewed promises that steps will be taken to make sure this never happens again. But this is now a familiar story, and its ending is all too predictable. The future guarantees more allegations, more victims, and more cold-case announcements. That is unless a decisive, dramatic disruption is made by Member States to change the way the UN handles what the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights today conceded is a “constant horror story” of sexual abuse by peacekeeping personnel.   

An outline of the dramatic change required was circulated by the Code Blue campaign to governments and media earlier this week:  Member States must take the management of this crisis out of the hands of a UN bureaucracy that has proven incapable, time and again, of solving its internal crisis. Today’s announcements underscored this point.  Implementation of the UN’s stated policy of “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse” must now be placed in receivership, with an oversight board appointed by and reporting directly to Member States. That board would watch over all aspects of the UN’s response to sexual abuse. It would ensure that the latest experimental improvements described today are monitored in real time, corrected the moment they veer off course, and held under Member States’ close guardianship for a fixed period, until the UN’s systemic problem is solved. 

Four quotes drawn from UN Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support Anthony Banbury’s theatrical briefing today are clear evidence that time is up. Under the direction of the same UN system that was accused by experts last month of “gross institutional failure,” new tweaks and adjustments to business-as-usual have no chance of preventing peacekeeper sexual abuse in the future. History, and a trail of broken victims who have received no justice or protection, more than prove that point.  

On the UN’s new response to sexual violence: “This is the first time we have seen the United Nations working in this way, in such a proactive way, and an integrated way, with different parts of the UN working together.”

Perhaps no statement better underlines the UN’s failure to respond to sexual abuse.  This isn’t the first time.  Since well before the “zero tolerance” policy was introduced, the UN has tried various initiatives to handle this problem, and clearly, not one has worked.  Even today, as the UN trumpets how its various parts ‘work together,’ it requires two different press conferences to deal with different types of perpetrators.  The so-called proactive approach has so far only succeeded in finding old allegations, with no evidence to suggest any real results.  A truly proactive and truly integrated approach requires one independent, entirely external board to deal with the issue. One board that can oversee all aspects of the bureaucracy’s response across the UN system, while remaining free of the politics and turf battles in the UN’s departments and agencies. 

On the number of allegations in CAR: “In most missions, we don’t have this [problem], so we don’t necessarily need to apply the same model, but where we are facing this kind of difficulty, then those kinds of proactive initiatives...reflect the commitment of the United Nations, and will have an impact.”

The UN is clearly in denial.  The MINUSCA mission has received unprecedented media attention since allegations against Sangaris and other troops were exposed by Code Blue in April 2015. The fact that the number of allegations has increased dramatically since then is no accident.  There is nothing mysteriously distinctive about CAR or about the troops stationed there.  The same sense of impunity is pervasive across the entire UN system, and any senior officials who believe otherwise have their eyes closed.

On defining allegations: “The science and art of counting allegations is really complicated. It’s not clear[.]”

As Code Blue has long stated, the way the UN defines “allegations” is dishonest and reprehensible. Today Mr. Banbury partly agreed, describing the annual tallying of “allegations” as art and science and telling a reporter that “I could take a lot of time trying to explain exactly how we do it here, but it’s not really a precise science.” Where allegations are concerned, the UN is shameless in its willful and deliberate distortion and must make a full confession. When a single allegation can refer to one or more victims, one or more perpetrators, and one or more criminal acts, then the term becomes meaningless. It’s in the UN’s interests to mislead by lumping crimes together; the end result is always the appearance of a downward trend and proclamations of steady progress toward “zero tolerance.” Such deceptions are precisely what render the whole system fetid; every fact is manipulated to paint a friendly picture. An external oversight board would not need to demand transparency and explanations about statistics; it would be constantly apprised, through its day-to-day monitoring, of facts such as the actual number of acts committed against individual victims. For the first time, Member States would be able to accurately assess the real scope of the problem.

On UN personnel who are aware of crimes: “They are obliged to report it, and any failure to report that is not only a transgression of their responsibilities to the UN, it makes them complicit with the perpetrators of those crimes[...]”

That was a stunning admission of culpability. In one brief statement, Mr. Banbury acknowledged that by concealing the sexual abuses that occurred in CAR, senior UN officials were complicit in them.  Leaked emails relating to Mr. Anders Kompass made it clear that the UN Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Under-Secretary-General of OIOS, among others, all went to great lengths to try and have Mr. Kompass fired for daring to report crimes to the French government responsible for investigating. Those officials showed no such energy to ensure that perpetrators were being held responsible. To the Code Blue campaign, and apparently to Mr. Banbury, that sounds like complicity.  And given this failure of senior leadership, it comes as little surprise that Mr. Kompass informed the Washington Post that staff throughout the UN are afraid to report wrongdoing for fear of the negative impact it will have on their careers. Mr. Banbury’s response to Mr. Kompass? “Honestly, I’m not buying it.”

And there is the problem.  It’s a problem that goes to the heart of the UN’s failure and was explicitly identified by Justice Marie Deschamps and the “CAR panel” whose investigation she chaired. Mr. Banbury, like other senior UN officials, continues to be obsessed by Kompass. Despite the longtime staff member’s full exoneration by the CAR panel and by a UN Dispute Tribunal, Mr. Kompass’s disgraced accusers can’t let it go. And despite all the incontrovertible evidence, the UN’s top officials still obstinately refuse to acknowledge that they preside over a system that hides the true statistics, punishes those who report wrongdoing, and allows perpetrators to go free. The answer is not a procession of bogus press conferences. The answer requires that the top level of supervision be shifted immediately to an independent oversight body, appointed by Member States, that will manage an unforgiving and laser-sharp UN response to sexual abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers. Only then will the number of instances of sexual violence decrease, the victims find some measure of justice, and perpetrators be held accountable.


(UN Photo / Mark Garten)