UN External Panel Reviewing Child Sexual Abuse Charges Compromised by Member's Conflict of Interest

At the United Nations, a purportedly external and independent three-person panel convened to review allegations of child sexual abuse by non-UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year, should confront questions about the career of Hassan Bubacar Jallow, one of its three members. Bubacar Jallow, it seems, is neither external nor independent of the United Nations, and given that the Secretary General (SG) has a global pool of experts to choose from for such a significant function, observers are raising questions about why he picked this one.

First, since 2003, Jallow has held a UN-appointed and UN-paid position as a prosecutor with the International Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), an international court established in November 1994 by UN Security Council Resolution 955.

Second, at the request of the Security Council the ICTR is closing down and transferring remaining cases and responsibilities to another tribunal by the end of this year, where Jallow also has an appointment for a term that ends March 1, 2016. Because within a year, he may be looking for another position (either at the UN or elsewhere), Jallow has an obvious conflict of interest and is potentially vulnerable to political pressure.

Third, Jallow is not just any UN staff member. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) twice investigated allegations that he improperly used UN benefits. On one occasion, he retained grant funds allotted to him to pay university tuition for one year. When his son withdrew from the university after only one month, Jallow did not inform the UN and kept the grant funds.

On a second occasion, the UN provided him with funds for home leave to finance travel for his family. But when the entire family did not travel, he did not return that grant, either.

Only after OIOS investigated and concluded that the funds had been improperly retained, did Jallow repay the money - an amount between $15,000 and $20,000.

For the average UN employee, these are offenses that would typically warrant at least a reprimand, if not dismissal. But Jallow faced neither. He was simply requested to repay the Organization, which he did, and OIOS closed both cases.

These events reveal a clear conflict: OIOS has oversight responsibilities for ICTR. So as an external panel member, Jallow is reviewing the work of OIOS, but as an ICTR prosecutor, OIOS has responsibility for investigating allegations of his own misconduct. This is the classic stand-off in which both parties have guns pointed at each others' heads - If both are prudent, neither one is going to pull a trigger - no matter what comes to light.

Besides the issues raised by Jallow's inclusion on the panel, other problems remain. The SG appointed the panel in response to objections from a group of member states to the way in which the Secretariat and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) focused the internal investigation on Director of Field Services Anders Kompass, rather than on the alleged abusers. Kompass was the senior human rights official at the OHCHR who reported the child abuse to law enforcement in France, so police could take action. Which they did.

E-mails posted on the internet by the Code Blue Campaign showed the Director of the Ethics Office (Joan Dubinsky), corresponding with the Chef de Cabinet, (Susana Malcorra), the Undersecretary for OIOS (Carman Lapointe) and the High Commissioner himself (Prince Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein) to ensure not only that the OIOS investigation focused on Kompass, but also that it would find him guilty.

This investigation continues, by the way, despite the parallel work of the SG's panel.

Further, the SG's panel is not an investigation - it's a review. So it's an ad hoc policy-oriented effort without established protocols for protecting witnesses, whistleblowers and victims. Since it's ad hoc, it lacks authority, credibility and real teeth. The terms of reference for the panel show that its members are pretty much free to invent the rules as they see fit, within the parameters already set by OIOS.

The allegations are serious and, we suspect, indicative of widespread exploitation and cruelty in the peacekeeping industry. The three-person panel needs to be truly independent of the United Nations to be credible as an impartial evaluator of such a sensitive issue. And the internal investigation, where clearly, the fix is in, needs to stop.