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Africa

High level UN officials were aware of abuse, claims advocacy group

DW speaks to Paula Donovan of Aids-Free World on the recent release of more documents that allegedly reveal that high level UN officials knew of sexual abuse cases in the Central African Republic.

On April 29, 2015, the organization AIDS-Free World together with the British newspaper, the Guardian, exposed reports of French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, sexually abusing young boys. In a recent new wave of revelations, Aids-Free World exposed new documents that it claims reveal how high level UN offials knew of the case and were involved in the dismissal of the UN official Anders Kompass.

DW: Can you give us a better understanding of the crimes allegedly committed in the Central African Republic.

Paula Donovan: The incidents that came to light recently involved six interviews by the UN with boys who said that they had been sexually molested and raped by French peacekeepers who were working in collaboration with the UN. Those boys told the story of their own sexual abuse and the abuse of their friends. The UN conducted the interviews but then did nothing with them. The interviewers sent their information on to their headquarters in Geneva and New York and from there, there was simply silence.

The French finally began to investigate when a former senior UN official, Anders Kompass, told the French government what had happened and gave the deputy ambassador a copy of the interviews. Anders Kompass was asked to resign. The wrong-doing that he is being accused of by the UN is turning over the interviews to the French. The UN said that there are processes that should have been followed and that he shouldn't have alerted the French even though two months had already passed.

Paula Donovan, AIDS-Free World Co-Director

Donovan and her organization AIDS-Free World launched an iniative against sexual abuse in peacekeeping missions.

How did your organization Aids-Free world become involved in this story?

We had exposed a document earlier that was an experts' review of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations all over the world, that had not been made public or commented on by the Secretary General of the UN. We exposed that report and so people within the UN, who were aware of how poorly the UN is treating sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations, learnt about our organization and began to feed other documents to us. Someone leaked the document about the sexual abuse in the Central African Republic to Aids-Free World. We were horrified and when we saw that no action had been taken by the UN for eight months, we decided that this was negligence on the part of the UN that needed to be exposed.

The UN has accused your organization of filtering the information that you got and of only exposing certain parts. Can you tell us more about that?

I think that's a defense mechanism on the part of the UN. They're asserting that we only know part of the story. We've revealed documents that tell a very full story of cover-up once it was revealed to the public that no action had been taken. So they're scrambling to make it seem as though they had followed all the appropriate processes and that these children were warned and protected. They haven't however revealed any of the documentation that would counter the claims that we're making. They're simply saying, you don't know the whole story and we are investigating internally.

What is the connection between Anders Kompass and your organization?

Anders Kompass did not turn to our organization. Someone else who had access to the interviews with the children and to a series of emails exchanged among senior staff, that showed that they were trying to force Anders Kompass out, leaked them to us.

How high within the UN does this go? Was the High Commissioner for Human Rights aware of this?

There are documents that demonstrate that well over 30 UN officials were aware of the story before we exposed the abuse and negligence on April 29, 2015. This included people at the level of the UN High Commissioner, the deputy, the Chef de Cabinet, the highest ranking person working directly for the Secretary General and high officials in UNICEF and some people in MINUSCA – the UN peacekeeping operation, that was up and running at the time when the interviews began. And the office of legal affairs was well aware.

Anders Kompass UNHCHR

Anders Kompass gave the documents to French authorities and consequently suspended from the UN.

In August, after Anders Kompass turned the documents over to the French authorities, the French wanted to interview the people on the ground, who had interviewed the children. The office of legal affairs began to stall that process by saying that they could only be interviewed if questions were submitted in writing. The most disturbing thing is that people who were involved in trying to push out Anders Kompass were on two sides of the UN that should never interact with one another when there are allegations against a staff member. That is on the one side the entire management system under the Secretary General and on the other side, the office of internal investigations and oversight and the ethics department. They should never sit down together and plan the ousting of staff member, especially when he has claimed whistleblower status.

Why do you think that the UN did not publish these findings?

I believe it's a culture of impunity within the UN. They can address situations or ignore them at will. And because they are sort of a protected class of people, only member states can demand that information be exposed to them. Member states simply don't know that they should ask for that information if they haven't been informed by the UN that something as horrific as this is going on.

What does your organization aim to achieve with the launch of your new campaign under the name Code Blue?

We're hoping to do two things. One is to end the immunity of UN peace-keeping personnel when it involves sexual exploitation and abuse. So whether they're accused of those crimes or whether they are witnesses or could provide testimony, they're immune from being involved in any legal process and that just simply doesn't make sense.

The second thing is that we want to call for member states of the United Nations to conduct a thorough, completely external, independent review of the way that sexual abuse is handled by the UN in its peace-keeping operations.

Paula Donovan is the co-director of advocacy group AIDS-Free World.

Interview: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh.