EXCLUSIVE: A self-described United Nations whistle-blower has appeared -- very briefly -- with new revelations in the scandal over sexual abuse of children by non-U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
She claims she told local French military authorities about the alleged crimes two months before another U.N. official leaked her report to French diplomats in Geneva -- and landed in deep hot water as a result.
The surprise revelations have been followed by silence from the alleged whistle-blower and the U.N. itself, adding to the tangled mystery of how and when the world organization moves to stop such ugly offenses when it becomes aware of them and who it allows to do so -- all practices that a U.N.-appointed independent panel is currently investigating.
They have also stirred frustration among U.N. supporters of Anders Kompass, the U.N. official who was originally asked to resign, then briefly suspended from his job despite an official note of thanks to him from a top French diplomat for bringing the abuses to his government’s attention. Kompass is still under internal U.N. investigation for the leak.
Gallianne Palayret, a U.N. human rights officer who compiled the original testimony from victims of the abuses allegedly carried out by a number of French and African soldiers in 2013 and 2014, made her new disclosure in a TV documentary on the aftermath of the abuses that aired in France on Oct. 2.
The troops were members of a French-led force endorsed by a Dec. 5, 2013, U.N. Security Council resolution that among other things condemned “sexual violence against women and children,” as well as rape, by sectarian forces ravaging the country. A full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping force is now also in CAR.
During the TV show, Palayret offered graphic descriptions of the alleged crimes, and brandished a red notebook that she said contained the personal accounts of six boys, ages 8 to 13, who had suffered the abuse.
Palayret, who is now working for the U.N. in Phom Penh, Cambodia, told her interviewer that she met “very quickly” with local French military authorities in May 2014 to warn them about the incidents and ask for increased patrols to prevent further abuse.
She described a “very positive reaction” to her revelations, along with promises that the military would “immediately” notify authorities in Paris.
According to the testimony of victims, however, the abuses continued until at least June 2014.
The documentary also says that French Justice officials confirmed they only heard of the alleged crimes when Kompass, a senior official of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), to whom Palayret also reported, leaked a copy of her raw report, in mid-July 2014. LINK HERE TO http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/05/01/african-troops-involved-with-french-in-un-rape-report-scandal/
Kompass made no secret to his superiors of his actions, which were intended, he said, to stop ongoing alleged crimes. He and fellow OHCHR workers were apparently unaware of Palayret’s local meetings with military authorities.
Indeed, in a letter to OHCHR officials in August 2014, after French investigators responded to Kompass’ disclosure, Palayret (her name was subsequently redacted) emphatically declared that she had never given her raw report to anyone outside the High Commissioner’s office.
The U.N. itself did not move against Kompass for another eight months, when he was suspended for passing on unredacted information, including the names of child witnesses, in violation of U.N. protocols that forbade handing on “any information that could endanger victims, witnesses and investigators.” Not long afterward, the scandal went public.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself seemed to endorse the punitive action in an April 29, 2015, statement that called the leak a “serious violation of protocol.” He noted Kompass’ April 17 suspension and also declared that “our preliminary assessment is that such conduct does not constitute whistle-blowing,” a course of action that theoretically has protected status under U.N. directives.
Within a week, a U.N. dispute tribunal ordered Kompass’ reinstatement, on the grounds that the OHCHR official who gave the order didn’t have the authority, and said that U.N. worries he might tamper with evidence while on the job were baseless.
By the beginning of June, as worldwide outcry grew over the alleged crimes, Ban -- with U.S. urging -- suddenly scrambled in a different direction. He announced creation of “an External Independent Review to examine the U.N. system’s handling of these allegations,” starting in July. An internal investigation of Kompass’ actions, however, kept going.
“I’m baffled by the claim.”
- Bea Edwards, of the Government Accountability Project (GAP)
In August, Ban also fired his special envoy to CAR, who was also head of the MINUSCA peacekeeping force, after additional sexual-abuse cases cropped up involving the U.N. peacekeeping forces.
For her part, Palayret had been staying very quiet, at least to outsiders.
According to Pierre Monegier, the French journalist who finally interviewed her for the TV documentary, Palayret refused for 4 ½ months to speak with him, and he had “given up all hope of getting in touch with her.”
Then, he told Fox News, “something changed in the situation.”
What that “something” was, is still not clear. In the documentary, Palayret is said to be a “whistle-blower” (in French, lanceuse-d’alerte), a term that journalist Monegier told Fox News she used herself.
“I’m baffled by the claim,” said Bea Edwards, international program director of the Washington-based Government Accountability Project (GAP), a whistle-blower advocacy organization.
Under directives from the U.N. Secretary General, that status is conferred by the U.N. Ethics Office on U.N. employees determined to have suffered from threatened or actual retaliation.
Very few of such designations have been issued recently -- and while there may still be grounds for Kompass to charge he was the victim of retaliatory action despite Ban’s earlier statements, Palayret has not, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, suffered any.
The difference in treatment between the two U.N. staffers was underlined in a letter sent today to Ban Ki-moon by Miranda Brown, another former staffer at OHCHR who worked directly under Kompass, and subsequently posted on GAP’s website.
Complaining about Kompass’ treatment, Brown declared that “no U.N. staff member should have been placed under investigation for trying to stop child sexual abuse,” and said that the convoluted saga, including Palayret’s belated TV appearance, “only reinforce the notion that there are inadequate guidelines and protocols in place for dealing with such a situation and little protection for those who report wrongdoing.”
Since her brief star turn on French airwaves, Palayret has apparently returned to her run-silent-run-deep status. Repeated telephone calls by Fox News to a Cambodian telephone number for Palayret that was supplied by U.N. insiders were not answered.
Fox News also sent questions to Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman about Palayret’s appearance in the documentary, the claim of whistle-blower status, her claim to have passed evidence to the French military in CAR, whether Ban’s office was aware in advance of Palayret’s appearance in the documentary, and whether she had received permission to appear.
The initial response from the spokesman was that he “had not heard of the documentary nor of the whistle-blower status.” A promise to “revert” was followed by days of silence.
Finally, a deputy spokesman told Fox News that “I don’t have anything to say on this for now.”
Another U.N. spokesman told Fox News that neither the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations nor the current peacekeeping force in CAR, known as MINUSCA, were “aware of any whistle-blower status being given to Palayret by the Ethics Office.”
Nor were either of those two organizations aware of her provision of information to French authorities, and neither had advance notice of her TV appearance, the spokesman indicated.
One of Palayret’s other intriguing assertions to the French TV team was that her diplomatic immunity as a U.N. employee was lifted in July, which would allow her in theory to be interviewed by French investigators -- who, according to the documentary, had not yet done so.
Nonetheless, the timing of the immunity release could well be significant. It coincides with the start of work by Ban’s three-member “external, independent” review panel, which was initially supposed to report its findings within ten weeks, or around the beginning of September.
As the panel is a non-U.N. body, Palayret would have to be granted leave -- and suspension of immunity -- in order to testify before it.
The panel’s report, however, was postponed until next month.
Among other things, the ten-week deadline originally set by Ban meant that it would publish its controversial findings not long before September 28, when President Barack Obama was personally convening a major summit meeting at the U.N. to upgrade developed country support for U.N. peacekeeping.
The U.N. has said there was no connection between the postponement and the date of President Obama’s big peacekeeping event. But there is no doubt that a widespread debate beforehand about the U.N. handling of sex crimes would not have added luster to that occasion.
The report is now due in early November.
Meanwhile, the U.N. today posted the most recent annual report of its “Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” -- University of California Irvine Law Prof. David Kaye -- which included a special section on the responsibilities of international organizations toward whistle-blowers.
“Disclosure of human rights or humanitarian law violations,” Kaye concluded, “should never be the basis of penalties of any kind.”
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/GeorgeRussell