UN sex abuse scandal: new allegations and more to come

The United Nations has suddenly released a new spate of revelations about rape and sexual abuse carried out by peacekeepers—both U.N. forces and others—in the Central African Republic, involving at least a dozen children aged from 7 to 16.

There are more to come, certainly involving U.N. forces. Fox News reported Wednesday that the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations has informed countries that supply troops and police of 24 separate allegations of sexual exploitation and/or abuse since July 1 alone, bringing the tally for last year to 34.

Additionally, the revelations ensured that the festering issue of peacekeeper sexual abuse—which prompted a scathing indictment by an independent panel of U.N. inaction and cover-up of similar allegations in the Central African Republic (CAR)—would remain in the spotlight for weeks before Secretary General Ban Ki-moon planned to issue his own report next month to outline his latest efforts to deal with the explosive issue.

Anthony Banbury, the U.N.’s Assistant Secretary General for Field support, brought sketchy details about only six cases before a U.N. press conference today in New York. They involved six children  from the battered CAR--an epicenter of the sex abuse scandal. Banbury also said the total number of allegations involving U.N. forces world-wide this year was likely to be 69, or double the number that  they have made public so far to troop contributing countries.

In a break with the U.N.’s normal discreet silence regarding the nationality of alleged offenders, Banbury reeled off a list of nations—Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo—that were involved in the CAR allegations, which ranged from sexual assault to sexual relations “possibly for money.”

In all, he said, there were 22 sexual exploitation and abuse cases in 2015 involving the U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSCA. Without the CAR cases, he said, the overall trend for U.N. sexual abuse allegations as reflected in official U.N. numbers would be declining, as it had in previous years.

At the same time, he hailed the investigations in CAR that had led to the latest revelations as “the first time we have seen parts of the U.N. work together in this way,” and called the effort “maybe a model” for other probes.

He explained the delay in providing more details about other alleged abuse cases by noting that they were “at different stages” and declaring that determining allegations was “not a precise science.”

“There are definitely other allegations out there,” he said.

Banbury added that more would be revealed in connection with the roll-out in “late February” of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report on measures to reduce the “scourge” of sexual abuse, which would also inaugurate unprecedented transparency of detail on outlining sexual abuse cases on a public website in the future.

Banbury spoke hours after the Geneva-based U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, announced he was “extremely alarmed” by “ new” revelations of similar alleged abuses by non-U.N. forces in CAR. Most of the “new” alleged cases took place in 2014, but according to Zeid, “only came to light in recent weeks.”

Zeid’s announcement said that the subsequent announcement from New York was based on information gleaned by the same team of U.N. investigators who had provided the latest information to him.

The High Commissioner specifically named forces from France and the republic of Georgia as being involved in allegations of rape and sexual relations for such things as water and cookies, and indicated that further nationalities involved in European Union forces in CAR might also be implicated.

The sudden but coordinated statements from New York and Geneva came only two days after the Fox News story, which centered on a radical proposal by a gadfly organization, AIDS-Free World, to abolish U.N. oversight of sexual abuse allegations altogether, and instead put them in the hands of an independent oversight body selected by U.N. member states without input from the international bureaucracy.

AIDS-Free World officials said they had been circulating their proposals, part of their Code Blue campaign to bring radical reform to the U.N. sexual abuse issue, among a number of influential member states, and had gotten expressions of interest from at least three of them, which were not named.

The Code Blue campaign has kept steady pressure on the sex abuse scandal for nearly a year, publishing internal U.N. documents that described what investigators called a “culture of silence” and “enforcement avoidance” where sexual abuse is involved.

The campaign also unveiled internal emails that last December led the independent panel of jurists to castigate specific U.N. officials for inaction in the probe of alleged CAR sex crimes. One of the officials criticized, though not so harshly, in that report  was Zeid.

For his part, Banbury appeared to struggle with emotion as he declared that the U.N. was “doing everything we possibly can” to assist sexual abuse victims, bring “accountability and justice” and prevent recurrence of such incidents, even while insisting that most of the additional details would await the Secretary General’s report.

AIDS-Free World co-director Paula Donovan, on the other hand, expressed both frustration and anger at the U.N. publicity effort, and at the impression she felt it tried to convey that the world organization’s attempt to portray the latest information as part of a “proactive” approach to the sex abuse scandal.

The large number of revealed cases in CAR, she told Fox News, was an indication that it was the only nation where the U.N. had “scratched the surface” across its sprawling array of peacekeeping missions.

In a withering rejoinder to Banbury’s assertions, she also told Fox News that “there is no confusion on the part of criminal and law enforcement officials about whether to call each individual case of abuse a separate allegation, or whether to lump them together in some artistic and para-scientific way” to “make it look as if the situation was getting better.”

“What today’s announcement points to,” she said, Is that if you look hard enough, there are numerous victims. There is nothing unique about the CAR.”

It seemed likely that AIDS-Free World would also be looking further. Donovan told Fox News that she had just been in the Netherlands to receive a financial grant that would allow her organization to pursue its Code Blue efforts.

George Russell is Editor-at-Large of Fox News. He is reachable on Twitter at @GeorgeRussell and on Facebook at Facebook.com/George.Russell