Advocates Call For Whistleblower Protections Amid Reports Of Rape By U.N. Peacekeepers

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

The United Nations has promised to offer “every possible help” to a 12-year-old girl who claims to have been raped by a U.N. peacekeeper in the Central African Republic. The incident, which was first reported by Amnesty International along with the murder of a father and son in the country, has resulted in the forced resignation of a top official and an internal investigation into the charges. Despite the moves toward establishing accountability, advocates say the U.N.’s continued harsh treatment of whistleblowers discourages staff members from bringing abuses to light.

Anders Kompass, a high-ranking official in the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, leaked the report to French prosecutors. He has faced a string of investigations and possible dismissal for sharing the confidential report publicly.

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Citing the case against Kompass, the United Nations Staff Union issued a call for stronger protections for whistleblowers.

“This demonstrates the urgent need for U.N. employees to have a serious whistle-blower protection policy,” Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the union said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “We have called on the U.N. to negotiate with us a whistle-blower protection policy for all U.N. workers, so they can speak out against wrongdoing without intimidation or punishment. This is especially important for those whose work protects vulnerable and innocent children.”

“I cannot put into words how anguished and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. forces,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said following Amnesty’s report last week.

Although Ban took what has been described as “unprecedented” action by calling on the top U.N. official in the Central African Republic to resign, many believe that the organization has not done enough to address the issue of sexual violence by its staff. Those have brought such reports to the public have seen threats from officials.

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Since the U.N. launched a mission in the Central African Republic nearly a year ago, 57 claims of misconduct — 11 of which possibly involve child sex abuse — have surfaced.

The report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday came after Kompass leaked the internal document detailing the sexual abuse of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic in April.

Paula Donovan, the co-founder of Aids Free World, is a former U.N. official who said that the U.N. has long turned a a blind eye towards allegations of sexual violence within its ranks.

“The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations’ appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn’t uncommon,” Donovan told the Guardian. “The UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks — ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble — must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power.”

Several diplomats who spoke to Foreign Policy said that the U.N. appears to have devoted far more effort towards pursuing an investigation against Kompass than investigations the reports of sexual violence that he leaked to the press.

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That’s an all-too-common pattern at the U.N., according to Bea Edwards of the Government Accountability Project, an international organization that supports whistleblowers.

“Despite the official rhetoric, there is very little commitment at the top of the organization to protect whistleblowers and a strong tendency to politicize every issue no matter how urgent,” she said. “We have represented many whistleblowers in the U.N. system over the years and in general the more serious the disclosure they make the more ferocious the retaliation.”

Kompass, who was the third-highest ranking officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been met with an especially harsh response for his disclosures of peacekeeper abuses. A series of emails and memos obtained by Aids Free World reveal U.N. efforts to force Kompass from his post.

The U.N. has maintained that its investigation into the leak of the confidential internal report stems from a desire to protect the children named in the report.

“The disclosure of this document may endanger the safety or security of the children, violate their rights, and invade their privacy,” Susana Malcorra, who serves as chief of staff for Ban, told Foreign Policy.

While the U.N. has reported a downward trend in instances of sexual abuse by its staff members in recent years, advocates believe that many might have been deterred from reporting such crimes due to a lack of whistleblower protections.

Update:

This post previously incorrectly stated that Anders Kompass leaked an internal U.N. report documenting child abuse by peacekeeping forces to the nonprofit organization Aids Free World. The report was actually leaked to French prosecutors.