Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers - Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic
The long-awaited report on the response of the United Nations' handling of sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers was published yesterday.
The tone of the report is one of strong condemnation, both of the personal conduct of several high-ranking UN officials and the grave systemic failures of the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse of children. It depicts a UN system that has comprehensively failed to respond to reprehensible crimes against vulnerable children, carried out by UN mandated peacekeepers in a displaced persons’ camp in Bangui. While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has long spoken of the goal of ‘zero tolerance’ and of his commitment to the zero tolerance policy,, there were many institutional failures which have been carefully documented throughout the 170-page report.
CRIN welcomes the publication of the report and is pleased to see that many of the recommendations and questions posed in our submission to the Panel’s work have been addressed.
The report highlights how information of the abuse of children in CAR was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations. It states that “Staff became overly concerned with whether the allegations had been improperly “leaked” to French authorities, and focused on protocols rather than action.
The welfare of the victims and the accountability of the perpetrators appeared to be an afterthought, if they were even considered at all. Overall, the response of the UN was fragmented and bureaucratic, and failed to satisfy the UN’s core mandate to address human rights violations.”
In evaluating the actions of both organisations and individuals, the report was scathing of the actions of both UNICEF and the Human Rights and Justice Section (HRJS) of the UN mission in CAR. While they both took steps to interview some of the children who had reported abuses, the report notes that the HRJS failed to conduct sufficiently in-depth investigations of the allegations and that, in particular, “HRJS made a deliberate decision not to report the allegations with any urgency to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.”
Furthermore, in relation to the aftercare of the victims, the report notes that while “the services provided by the (local) NGO were clearly inadequate, the failure of UNICEF to monitor the conduct of its partner NGO or to follow up with the children themselves is even more disturbing. Neither UNICEF nor HRJS took any steps to locate the additional child victims who had been referred to in the course of the interviews to determine if they too were in need of protection services.
Shockingly, the report notes that “It was only in May 2015 after international media outlets began reporting on the allegations and a year after the abuses were initially brought to the UN’s attention that UNICEF followed up with the local NGO. Only then did it locate the children and attend to their protection needs. This unacceptable delay in providing protection for the children, was, in the Panel’s view, an abdication of the obligations of MINUSCA, HRJS, UNICEF, and Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict (SRSG CAAC) under the UN’s protection mandate.”
The report was equally damning of the actions of a number of UN officials finding that three of them directly abused their authority: the then head of the human rights component of the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA); the then Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINUSCA; and the then Under-Secretary-General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
Other UN officials were also found to have failed in their roles, despite being advised of the allegations on numerous occasions between May and August 2014. For example, the head of the mission (the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, or “SRSG of MINUSCA”) failed to take action. Similarly, the Africa Branch in the OHCHR also took no meaningful steps to follow up either with HRJS or with the head of the UN mission in CAR.
The report also found that Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict (SRSG CAAC) failed to follow up with UNICEF to obtain details of the allegations, or with French authorities to learn the outcome of their investigations and to assess whether they had taken appropriate measures to prevent further abuses.
Despite the fact that the sexual abuse of children in the context of armed conflict falls at the core of her mandate, no steps were taken to inform herself about what was being done by the UN to address the allegations until the spring of 2015, when the allegations were being reported by international media.
There were also a number of other senior UN officials that have been strongly condemned by the findings, yet do not appear to meet the Panel’s standards for abuse of authority. Despite the Panel’s considerable examination of the above individuals, questions still remain of the roles played by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Executive director of UNICEF, the Head of Ethics and the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet.
The report does provide a thorough examination of the role of Anders Kompass, and the attempts to have him dismissed, and fully. exonerates him of any wrongdoing. In discussing Kompass’s passing of information about the allegations to French authorities, it states that, “There is also a recognized practice among OHCHR staff in the field of conducting “quiet diplomacy” with local government officials in order to follow up on human rights violations. In the Panel’s view, therefore, the Director of field operations and technical cooperation division (FOTCD) did not act outside of his scope of authority when he transmitted the Sangaris Notes to the French authorities.”
Furthermore, it states that “had the fact that the identities of the victims were shared with French authorities been considered a risk to the children’s safety, the UN would have taken urgent steps to protect the children when it became known in August 2014 that their identities had been disclosed. Instead, no steps whatsoever were taken to find the children, relocate them out of the M’Poko Camp, or assess their security needs until May 2015. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the UN agencies, units and offices did not, at the time, perceive that the transmission of the Sangaris Notes put the children at serious risk of harm.”
As such, in order to explain the reason for the OHCHR’s dismissal of Kompass (prior to him being reinstated after a successful appeal), the report notes that, “the High Commissioner demonstrated a single minded determination to pursue an investigation into the director’s conduct. This was based on a preconception that the Director must have been motivated by some undisclosed personal interest when sharing the information with the French authorities.” As such, questions still remain as to why the High Commissioner was so determined to pursue such an investigation. The report also critiqued the role of the Director of the Ethics Office, the role of her Office being to administer the UN’s whistleblower protection programme, noting that she should have maintained her independence both from senior management and from the investigative function of OIOS.
The report also highlighted how the vetting of peacekeeping troops was and continues to be hopelessly inadequate, that investigations are flawed, the system is wildly fragmented, and the data is entirely unreliable. Above all, it shows that the rights of victims have been utterly neglected by the very agencies tasked with protecting them. The focus of the report on the victims’ rights is certainly encouraging and it notes that the sexual abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers is not a mere disciplinary matter, but a violation of the victims’ fundamental human rights, and in many cases a violation of international humanitarian and criminal law.
Equally, the emphasis the report places on the victims of the abuse, rather than the disciplinary nature of the allegations is also welcomed, highlighting just how dismissive of the victims the initial responses to the allegations were. The report states that “regardless of whether the peacekeepers were acting under direct UN command or not, victims must be the priority.”
Acknowledge that sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, whether or not the alleged perpetrator is under UN command, is a form of conflict related sexual violence to be addressed under the UN’s human rights policies.
Create a Coordination Unit in OHCHR reporting directly to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to oversee and coordinate responses to conflict related sexual violence, including: monitoring, reporting and follow up on allegations of sexual abuse; analyzing data with a view to tracking trends and practises for the purpose of improving prevention and accountability; and following up on the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations.
Create a working group to support the Coordination Unit made up of experts (including specialists skilled in addressing sexual violence by international forces), and representatives of troop contributing countries (TCCs). The working group should develop a single policy harmonizing the SEA and human rights policies and develop processes promoting criminal accountability for sexual violence.
Require mandatory and immediate reporting of all allegations of sexual violence to: the head of the human rights component in the field or mission, or the reporting officer; and in the case of sexual violence against children, the child protection officer, as well as UNICEF and the SRSG CAAC; and in the case of sexual violence against adults, the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict; and the Coordination Unit.
Establish, under the authority of the Coordination Unit, a professional investigative team available for immediate deployment when conflict related sexual violence by peacekeepers is reported.
Task the working group with reviewing UN policies dealing with confidentiality in order to establish a proper balance between informed consent, protection, and accountability.
Establish a Trust Fund to provide specialized services to victims of conflict related sexual violence.
Negotiate with TCCs provisions ensuring prosecution, including by granting host countries subsidiary jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of sexual violence by peacekeepers.
Negotiate the inclusion in agreements with TCCs of provisions ensuring transparency and cooperation in accountability processes.
Adopt an approach to immunity that presumes cooperation and active participation of UN staff in accountability processes.
Negotiate with all TCCs provisions for screening troops that are minimally equivalent to the standards described in the human rights due diligence policy (HRDDP).
Maintain a comprehensive and up to date human rights database hosted by OHCHR.