Top UN Myths About Sex Abuse in the Central African Republic

06/04/2015 04:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

Context: In April 2015 Anders Kompass, an experienced human rights officer at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was suspended by the High Commissioner for three months. During this time, the UN is carrying out an investigation of the events surrounding his transmission in late July 2014 of a report containing multiple allegations of sex abuse of displaced children by French troops in the Central African Republic (CAR). In May the UN Dispute Tribunal ruled that Kompass' suspension was improper, and he returned to work. The internal investigation continues, but it has been so controversial that yesterday the Secretary General announced that he would convene an independent inquiry.

Meanwhile, misinformation and disinformation continue to surround the Kompass episode. What follows is an effort to separate the fact from the fiction.

Myth 1: The French troops were UN Peacekeeping troops.

Fact 1: The troops implicated in the abuse were French troops -- the SANGARIS operation -- deployed to the CAR in response to UN Security Council Resolution 2127. They were under French command, and only French law enforcement had the jurisdiction to discipline them. Further, the French were accompanied in the CAR by military troops from Chad and Equatorial Guinea, and military personnel from these two countries were also implicated in sexual abuse of children in the CAR.

Myth 2: The UN was therefore not responsible for the abuse.

Fact 2: While the UN was not responsible for the abuse that had occurred before victims reported what had happened, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was responsible for taking steps to report the abuse to the appropriate jurisdiction once the office had knowledge of the allegations and information sufficient to address them. The mandate of the OHCHR reads:

The mandate includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, coordinating related activities throughout the United Nations, and strengthening and streamlining the United Nations system in the field of human rights. In addition to its mandated responsibilities, the Office leads efforts to integrate a human rights approach within all work carried out by United Nations agencies.

It is noteworthy that the first aspect of the OHCHR mandate is "preventing human rights violations...."

Myth 3: Anders Kompass leaked the report of sex abuse to the French Mission in Geneva.

Fact 3: As a senior official with the OHCHR, Anders Kompass transmitted the report formally and confidentially to the French Mission with a signed cover letter for purposes of official investigation (see paragraph 4). In return, he received a formal response expressing the appreciation of the French government for the report and an intention to act immediately. The French Mission responded to Kompass:

Given the seriousness of the allegations and the need to check the reality, it was immediately decided to go to court which will decide on the action to be taken, including possible criminal prosecution. Moreover, a disciplinary command investigation was launched immediately, under the responsibility of the General Staff of the Armies. (Translated from French)

Myth 4: Kompass violated UN protocols by disclosing the report to the responsible government without redacting victims' names and descriptions of suspects.

Fact 4: Because Kompass did not leak the report but rather transmitted it through the Mission to French law enforcement (see above), it would have been senseless to redact names and identities. Kompass transmitted the report to the French government so that French law enforcement could investigate, and therefore the identities of victims and perpetrators were evidence to be used to advance the investigation.

Myth 5: The United Nations (the OHCHR) is concerned about the disclosure of the report because its protocols were violated by the disclosure of victims' identities.

Fact 5: The OHCHR has no clear protocols for addressing ongoing, immediate and serious sexual abuse of children, and this is precisely why Anders Kompass finds himself at the center of this firestorm. Nonetheless, he is a senior OHCHR official with 30 years of experience in the field of human rights reporting. In a situation like this, where crimes are committed against child victims, he had to use his best judgment about how to proceed. He reported the evidence, with names and nicknames of the victims and identifying characteristics of the perpetrators, the location of the camp in question, and the character of the abuses to law enforcement through official channels. Appropriate protocols must be developed.

Myth 6: The United Nations facilitated the French investigation.

Fact 6: The OHCHR appears to have obstructed the French investigation. The Human Rights Officer responsible for the report informed her/his supervisors that he/she had been contacted by French police in early August 2014. The Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) at the OHCHR then informed the French investigators that the reporting official could not be interviewed but would respond to written questions, thus slowing the investigation. The Human Rights Officer reported in a statement to investigators that he/she heard nothing about the case between September 2014 and March 2015. French authorities were negotiating contact with the officer in November and December 2014, but he/she did not receive a list of questions to be answered from investigators until early March 2015. The questions came through OLA.

At the same time, the Deputy High Commissioner asserted that he and the High Commissioner did not pursue the issue because they believed that the French were handling it (page 2 of statement, top).

Myth 7: The oversight offices of the United Nations, which operate independently of each other as well as impartially, are conducting a legitimate investigation of Kompass to clarify his responsibilities and actions in this episode.

Fact 7: Before information was gathered, the Ethics Office, the Chief of Staff of the Secretary General, the Deputy High Commissioner and the Under-Secretary for OIOS consulted each other to determine how to proceed against Kompass. Moreover, the Chief of Staff informed the Fifth Committee and the press that she believed Kompass to be guilty of breaching OHCHR protocols while the investigation -- which was launched collectively by putatively independent oversight offices -- was underway.

Myth 8: In proceeding as they did, transmitting information from the interviews with abused children only internally at the OHCHR and UNICEF, the reporting officials acted responsibly and properly.

Fact 8: As cited above, the first responsibility of an official of the OHCHR is to prevent human rights violations. According to Inter Press Service:

The documents show that the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn't number all the times he'd been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 -- several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

"By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse," AIDS-Free World said in a statement.

Remaining Questions: Under the protocols in place for documenting and reporting sex abuse among soldiers deployed under a resolution of the UN Security Council, when reports involve the armed forces of a member state and information has been provided to two different UN entities:

  • What would the proper reporting channels be?

  • What information could be transmitted?
  • What approvals would have to be secured?
  • How much time (approximately) would elapse before permission was secured to transmit all available evidence to a law enforcement arm with jurisdiction to address the allegations?