Last year, French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) reportedly sexually abused boys who were trying to subsist at a camp for those displaced by a brutal, ongoing conflict. Anders Kompass, a high-level official at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), transmitted a report about the incidents to law enforcement in France, and investigators were on the ground at the camp within days.
The official response of the UN to Kompass' actions was disturbing and improper. First, it was delayed. It was over eight months after Kompass reported the abuse before the UN responded at all. And second, the response was retaliatory. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, accused Kompass of leaking the report - and thus revealing the names of the victims - and requested his resignation. When Kompass refused, Zeid demanded that he be investigated.
This was an astonishing reaction. Kompass transmitted evidence of crimes against children to the appropriate arm of law enforcement and the OHCHR is investigating him for "leaking."
Months went by, and Kompass still remains under investigation. The Secretary General has convened a review panel, and now, in the past two weeks, a second witness to the alleged sexual crimes in the CAR has come forward. She is Gallianne Palayret, the woman who interviewed the abused children and wrote the report that Kompass ultimately gave to the police. Her story, however, is different from that of Kompass. She says that after interviewing the first abused child, she reported the problem to senior officers in command of the French forces. She asked them to increase patrols in the area where the abuse had occurred.
I convened a meeting very quickly--after having heard the first testimonies of children--with the Sangaris authorities. I asked them, while waiting for facts to be verified, to at least put more patrols in those different areas, to keep their eyes open and to better control the soldiers who work in these places to make sure that at least if the facts turned out to be true, at least they would not keep happening.
Then she continued her interviews. While conducting subsequent interviews, she discovered that the abuse was continuing.
In short, Palayret did nothing effective, and the UN authorized her to speak to the press about the CAR. Kompass actions triggered an investigation, and the UN is investigating him for misconduct.
Palayret has now spoken publicly to French television (Envoye Especial), French news and the New York Times. She told all of the reporters that she is free to speak now because the UN has given her whistleblower status.
The thing is - Palayret's account of what happened is highly improbable for the following reasons:
1. She is a junior/mid-level professional at the UN, and she claims that she went alone, without informing her superiors and without their instruction, to discuss an extremely sensitive and criminal matter with senior military officials of a UN member state's armed forces.
2. The member state in question is France. Palayret is a French national, and she claims that she informed the military about crimes allegedly committed by their troops. This is a serious national conflict of interest. The question arises immediately: was she trying to warn the military of her own country so that the offending soldiers could be rotated out of the CAR before an investigation ensued? Staff members of all inter-governmental organizations are instructed upon employment that they must never put themselves in a position where questions of conflict like this could arise. According to her own account, Palayret apparently did this anyway.
3. She did not follow-up on her purported warning to French military officials. She does not know what actions they took after she spoke with them, nor does she have any record of the meeting. She admits that she does not know whether the French government was informed. When she resumed interviewing the abused children, at least one of them told her he had been molested after she spoke to the military officers and asked that patrols be increased. Yet she did not do anything more.
4. She did not claim that she took any action to ensure that an investigation ensued. She additionally did not take steps to determine whether the allegations of sexual abuse were true, and if so, who the perpetrators were, or how they could be separated from the children.
5. She claims that the UN gave her "whistleblower status." However, there is no such status at the UN. If a staff member of OHCHR claims to suffer retaliation because he/she reported misconduct, the UN Ethics Office determines whether the report is a "protected disclosure." If it is, then any negative administrative action taken against the reporting staff member is considered retaliatory and is therefore misconduct. The staff member is not designated a whistleblower; the disclosure is designated protected.
Moreover, a staff member is never authorized by the UN to speak to the press about misconduct. The UN's anti-retaliation policy would only open the possibility of speaking publicly if, ironically, the UN itself had been informed about the wrongdoing and did not act. If, however, the UN had recognized Palayret's report of sexual abuse to the military of a member state as a protected disclosure, then the organization would have been taking action and she would be protected from retaliation, not authorized to give press interviews.
Finally, communications with the UN Ethics Office - which handles whistleblower disclosures and retaliation claims - revealed that Ethics officials had no knowledge of Gallianne Payret or her actions.
In short, whoever told Palayret that she is a whistleblower is inventing a status that does not exist at the United Nations.
So, contrast what Palayret did in the face of ongoing sexual abuse of children with what Anders Kompass did. Kompass, in short, gave all available, actionable evidence to the police with the jurisdiction to act. He gave the evidence discretely, yet officially, through the French mission to the UN in Geneva. Within a matter of days, French authorities dispatched investigators to the CAR to ask questions. One of the people they sought to question was - Gallianne Palayret. Only then did she inform her supervisor of her involvement in the case.
Palayret, however, claims she spoke to military officers and asked them to exercise greater vigilance in certain areas. She did not ascertain whether they did that or whether they informed the French Government. When she was told, however, that the abuse continued, she did nothing more.
When she finally wrote to her supervisor about being questioned by French investigators, she makes no mention of her meeting with the French military about the same issue.
So, our questions:
- Why is Gallianne Palayret talking?
- Why is she talking now, more than one year after the incidents in question occurred?
- Why did she change her story by adding to it an extremely unlikely account of a meeting with the French military?
- Who told her she is a whistleblower?
- What does she hope to achieve with this incredible account of her role in the CAR sexual abuse case?