The United Nations (UN) has appointed an independent panel to review the organization's handling of allegations of child sexual abuse by French soldiers. The troops reportedly bought sex from children as young as nine.
The move, announced on Tuesday by UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, came after confidential documents were found, allegedly showing that for more than half a year, the UN's top human rights officials failed to follow up on allegations of abuse collected by their own staffers.
Dujarric said the panel will assess the failings of UN procedures, including "any allegations of abuse of authority or retaliation by senior officials."
The panel, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, will start work in July and will be chaired by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps. Also on the commission will be the current prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Hassan Jallow, and executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, Yasmin Sooka.
A public report is expected to be published within 10 weeks of panel beginning their investigations.
'Tip of the iceberg'
French troops arrived in Central African Republic in late 2013 as part of a UN mission to help an African Union peacekeeping operation, which was taken over by UN peacekeepers last September. The French troops were never under UN command.
The world organization first heard allegations from children as young as nine that French soldiers had sexually abused them, sometimes in exchange for food, a year ago.
A draft UN document obtained by the news agency AFP last week also contained 480 allegations of sexual abuse from 2008 until 2013, with a third involving children and teenagers under 18. It outlined cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Haiti, Sudan and South Sudan and said peacekeepers had bought sex with anything from jewelry to television sets.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said on Tuesday that probably "what has been reported was a tip of the iceberg."
Since the allegations were first heard by the UN a year ago, however, the only person who has been punished is the senior UN staff member who told French authorities, Anders Kompass.
World failing millions of children
Late on Monday, the UN's child agency UNICEF also urged world leaders to put the world's poorest children at the heart of new development goals for 2030 when they meet in September.
The UN report titled "Progress for Children" warned that unless the world focuses on the most disadvantaged youngsters over the next 15 years, 68 million more children under five will die from mostly preventable causes by 2030 - and an estimated 119 million children will still be chronically malnourished by the same date.
"If the global community allows the current trends to continue we will fail millions of children," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake he warned.
The report also noted a string of positives, however: under-five mortality rates dropped by more than half, chronic malnutrition among children was down over 40 percent, and millions more children had received access to primary school education. Nevertheless, the report said, 6 million children still die each year before the age of five, while 58 million do not receive primary education.
ksb/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)