Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse in the CAR Not Given Priority by the United Nations

On April 29 Sandra Laville at The Guardian broke the story of child sex abuse by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) at a camp for the displaced the previous year. An appalling report had surfaced when Prince Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), decided -- eight months after the fact -- to suspend Anders Kompass, a high-level human rights official and reluctant whistleblower, for reporting the crimes to the French police.

Nearly as appalling were the emails that appeared on the Internet showing collusion among UN oversight officials as they sought to contain the political damage done by the report on child abuse, and to focus any investigation on the actions of Kompass (the reporting official) rather than the peacekeepers (the alleged abusers).

To date, no one can understand why the High Commissioner, the Chief of Staff, the Ethics Office Director and the Undersecretary for Oversight did this, and explanations are not convincing. We were told that Kompass failed to use official channels when he went to the French and didn't redact the names of the victims from the report when he handed it over. But everyone soon realized that official channels are slow, and in emergencies (such as suspected, ongoing criminal assault), senior specialists use their judgment. That's why they're senior. Then, too, many wondered: Why report a crime to the police and withhold the names of the victims?

So mysteries continue to surround the actions and reactions of the OHCHR when dealing with child sex abuse crimes, eight months after the French police received the allegations and took action.

In response to all of this, just over a week ago, the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly -- the Administrative and Budget Committee -- brought forth Resolution A/C.5/69/L.60 to define the priorities of the Member States with respect to peacekeeping, whistleblowing and, among other things, sex abuse. The Committee registered its dismay, but the resolution makes clear certain obvious features of UN peacekeeping that most casual observers don't immediately think of when considering the pressures on the forces.

In fairness, we must acknowledge that the Fifth Committee is, after all, the budget committee, and we might therefore expect that its resolutions consider the funding involved in the issues considered. Still, it's striking how prominently national representation and financial interests figure in the resolution. Before most other considerations, the Member States recall that the Secretary General should ensure that the nationals of countries contributing troops to the peacekeeping forces are also favorably considered for jobs in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

Then there are also more mundane considerations that, clearly, someone thought it a priority to emphasize up front. The Committee "[r]equests the Secretary-General to strengthen oversight and internal controls in the areas of procurement and asset management across peacekeeping missions, including by holding mission management accountable for checking stock levels before undertaking any acquisition activity in order to ensure compliance with established asset management policies, taking into account the current and future needs of the mission and the importance of the full implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards...."

It is only later that the Committee turns to the issue of child sexual abuse and "[e]xpresses concern about the response of the United Nations to the recent allegations of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in the Central African Republic...."

Note the introductory phrase: "[e]xpresses concern." This is much less directive than "[r]equests the Secretary General to..." as used in the paragraph related to ordering supplies for the commissary.

Later still, the Committee addresses the more serious aspects of the problem: It "[u]rges the Secretary-General and Member States to undertake all relevant actions within their respective areas of competence, including holding perpetrators accountable...."

This urging covers a lot of ground, encompassing all areas of competence, and expresses the opinion that perpetrators of sex abuse might be held accountable. Only in the final paragraphs of the resolution, however, under the heading of "Other Issues," does the Committee turn to the collusion among UN oversight officials that The Guardian described six weeks earlier. The problem here is expressed obliquely. The Committee "[r]equests the Secretary-General to promote effective coordination and collaboration in the Office of Internal Oversight Services [OIOS], bearing in mind its operational independence...."

It is not entirely clear what this means, although obviously some party to the negotiations on the resolution thought it appropriate to mention that evidence has been released showing supposedly autonomous investigative officials consulting each other in order to focus an investigation on the reporting official rather than the report.

Given the contents of the report in question (child abuse) and the impeccable reputation of the reporting official (Kompass), this was no small task, but among them, the emails show, the ethics and investigations offices figured out how to do it.

We can't help but take note here that there is disconnect between what's going on in the camps in the CAR and the deliberations of the committee managing oversight. In the first setting, there are soldiers sodomizing young children with all of the decorum associated with a sexual assault, and in the second we have diplomats delivering themselves of pronouncements about the matter in opaque and noncommittal language of the sort once used by the queen of France (who is, by the way, now extinct).

And this precisely why Anders Kompass had to go to the French police about what was happening to the children. The police tend to get right to the point. They do not recall, regret or take note. No. They question, detain and indict. After all, when children without guardians are exposed to sexual predators, someone has to.