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On CAR, Inclusive Means Let Displacees Vote, Sangaris Rapes Panel Visits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 5 -- When peacekeepers from France allegedly raped children in the Central African Republic and the UN learned about it a year ago, the UN and UNICEF did nothing, until UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous asked to fire the whistleblower in March of this year.  Inner City Press asked UNICEF about its role, here.

When the UN's envoy to CAR Babacar Gaye addressed the Security Council on August 5, referring repeatedly to justice, arrests and serious crimes, he did not once refer to the French soldiers' alleged rape of children there. This is how the UN tries to make some issues disappear. But as reported below, the Panel that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has named to look into the CAR rapes has traveled to the country, as both Gaye and the Council's president for August Joy Ogwu of Nigeria told Inner City Press (but the UN Spokesperson's Office decline to confirm, see below).

  After the meeting, Ogwu for the Council read out Elements to the Press and Inner City Press asked two questions. Periscope video here. As transcribed by

Amb. Joy Ogwu: Good afternoon. Well, as you know, the members of the Security Council today were briefed by the SRSG, Babacar Gaye, on the situation in the Central African Republic. And so we have some press elements arising from the briefing and consultations.
The Council commended the Central African Republic transitional authorities for their commitment and encouraged them to continue in their efforts. The Council noted that the security situation remains fragile and that the challenges faced by Central African Republic can only be addressed through a national and inclusive approach with the assistance of the international community. They also called on the donor community to finance DDR and other processes that contribute to national reconciliation, as well as ending impunity.
The members of the SC recalled that the absolute priority is the organization of elections. This should be inclusive. They stressed that the deadlines must be met in order to conclude a transition phase by the end of 2015 to enable a greater focus on the long term reconstruction and development of the Central African Republic.
The members of the Council encouraged the transitional authorities to assure an inclusive approach and that the implementation of the recommendations of the panel be followed.

 Inner City Press: Is inclusive a ref to the ability of those who fled to vote?

Amb Joy Ogwu:: Precisely those who are out of the country should be able to vote within the country. This should include every citizen.
Inner City Press: Did the issue of alleged abuse by Sangaris come up?

Amb Joy Ogwu: It was raised.

An African ambassador mid-meeting complained to Inner City Press that while the Bangui Forum said that those displaced or "cleansed" from CAR must be allowed to vote, now unelected people there are saying this will not happen. Elements to the press are being prepared, the Ambassador told Inner City Press.

  Gaye on August 5 told the Security Council:

  “MINUSCA continues to use its urgent temporary measures to arrest spoilers where the state lacks the capacity to do so. In that regard, I also welcome the transitional authorities' decision to establish the Special Criminal Court to investigate serious crimes committed since January 1, 2003. I call upon donors to support the court with financial donations and secondment of international magistrates."

  So - international magistrates to judge CAR "spoilers" - but no judging in Bangui of French soldiers' alleged rapes there?

 Gaye also said, “Despite the availability of funds and progress initiating voluntary disarmament of the ex-Seleka in Bangui, we are yet to regroup and disarm the combatants throughout the country. Indeed, most of the signatories would like to respect their commitments as per the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration agreement, but recent political developments have raised doubts, in particular among the ex-Seleka. In the meantime, MINUSCA is working closely with the transitional authorities to move the process forward in order to establish a situation conducive to calm and transparent elections...

   “The Central African Republic authorities announced the electoral calendar: a constitutional referendum on the 4th of October, a first round of presidential and legislative elections on the 18th of October, and a second round on the 22nd of November. In the meantime, 478,000 voters have been registered primarily in Bangui, and the process is getting underway in the rest of the country.

   “The anti-Balaka stronghold of Boy-Rabe and the Muslim-dominated PK5 remain the hot spots in the capital city. MINUSCA is using a robust approach to restore rule of law in both areas, as demonstrated by the search and arrest operation that took place in PK5 three days ago."

  So Herve Ladsous' MINUSCA is making arrests in PK5, but did nothing when it learned of child rapes by French troops.

  About the Panel that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon belatedly announced, Inner City Press on August 4 asked if they will travel to CAR to do any interviews. Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq insisted "that is nothing we could know in advance." But what about not only the Panel's budget, which Inner City Press asked Haq about -- what about UN Security if the Panel were to, as it should, conduct interview and collect evidence in CAR?

 From the UN's August 4 transcript:

Inner City Press: Two questions about the Central African Republic.  One is just there was a study report, I guess, it came out on Friday by Amnesty International about the… this sort of forced conversion of Muslims in the Central African Republic and the fact that many of the people that left are basic… those were thought to come from Chadian or Sudanese grandparents are not returning.  I wanted to know if… I don’t know if you had some response or the UN had some response about how its mission can deal with those two issues.

And the other one has to do with the panel on the sexual… the allegations of the child sexual abuse in CAR by Sangaris.  I wanted to know if the panel… I know you’re going to say they’re independent, but there’s a… whether they are, in fact, going to travel to the country to do any interviews.  And the reason I’m asking is, what is their budget?  Where does the budget of the panel come from?  And what is the budget of the panel?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, they are free to go about their work as they see fit.  They will submit figures on their budget once they’ve completed their work.  At this stage, it’s a work in progress.  We don’t have nor do we ask for details about what their work is going to be.  They will complete it, and then they will inform us of what their work is.  So whether it includes travel on the ground or not, that’s their call, and it’s nothing that we would learn in advance.

Regarding the Amnesty International report, of course, we’re concerned about the situation there.  You’ll have seen what our own human rights officers on the ground have been saying about the situation, and it’s a tremendous cause for concern, both the displacements and the sort of inter-community and inter-ethnic and interreligious violence that there’s been.

Inner City Press:  Could I just… to understand the budget issue.  Obviously, they’re supposed to pay for it out of their own pocket and get reimbursed, or how is the actual work of the panel being paid for currently?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have different accounts that can deal with expenses, such as unforeseen expenditures, like new panels.  Regarding what specific accounting they will do, that… you know, that will become clearer as… you know, once they’ve gone about their work, so we’ll have to wait and see what they submit for their budget.

   Now both the UN's outgoing -- gone -- "Ethics Officer" Dubinsky and the three person panel UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named to investigate are under fire. On July 31, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about... Ms. Dubinsky, the Ethics Officer contract extension, which would give her a lifetime pension, and the extension was given just as she discussed investigating Mr. Kompass on the Central African Republic rape allegations.  And I’m asking you this because the head of Aids-Free World and Code Blue, you say you respect, as well as the Government Accountability Project, both find that an extreme… extremely troubling timing and say that it calls for… demands Secretary-General Ban’s personal attention, the idea of a conflict of interest of giving $12,000 a year for life to the person that was investigating the whistle-blower of these rapes.  What’s your response?

Spokesman Dujarric:  Indeed, I ... very much respect the work that Ms. Dubinsky has been doing over the last five years.  I know the Secretary-General does as well.  This is her last day.  She’ll be retiring as of tomorrow... I think in accordance with UN staff regulations and staff rules, the authority for the selection of staff members at D-2 Level and above rests with the Secretary-General including the retention of staff members beyond the retirement age should the need arise.  The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the selection and appointment of senior managers as a priority seeks to have smooth transition during a change in leadership.  We’re not in a position to discuss individual staff members’ contracts.  The UN has an obligation to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of all staff records.  As I mentioned, her term ends today.  Again, the Secretary-General is grateful for her work.  And I think, you know, what is also of concern, I think, is the fact that some of her personal data was leaked, was leaked to the press and personal information concerning her.

Inner City Press:  Who’s the next Ethics Officer?  If the rationale for giving the extension was continuity…

Spokesman:  We hope to announce someone in due time.

Inner City Press:  Has she been spoken with by the panel on these rapes...

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  The panel is independent.  I’ve made it a point to have no contact with them unless asked to, and I won’t ask them who they plan to talk to.

Inner City Press:  And just finally, the Government Accountability Project, again a respected organization, has now said that two of the three panellists are not, in fact, independent because of the dangling of future UN appointments in front of the--

Spokesman:  I think the panel put together is an extraordinary panel.  I think everyone can always find something to argue with.  They are… they are people of great ethical standard.  They are people who have had great legal careers, have been outspoken human rights defenders, have done great reform work in the case of the Canadian Armed Forces.  I would ask people to judge the panel on its report and to be a little bit patient and see what they come up with.

  But there is an ever-growing pattern here.

  After BuzzFeed's Jina Moore documented that when an aid worker was allegedly raped inside UN Peacekeeping's Bentiu "Protection of Civilians" site in South Sudan, the UN system did little to nothing -- until on July 27, in transcribing Spokesman Stephane Dujarric's answer to Inner City Press' questions, the UN added in a parenthetical that Nobert did not work for the UN.

 On July 30, Inner City Press asked Dujarric about yet another case in this unfolding scandal, this one again involving one of Herve Ladsous' peacekeeping missions, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Video here.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: I’m sure you’ve seen the story in The Guardian, actually by one of our colleagues or former colleagues here, Roger, about the systematic rape by an air contractor of the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission] in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  And they basically say that there’s some pretty horrendous evidence or descriptions of what happened, that the UN kept paying the contractor after, with some idea of rehabilitating it.  But I wanted to ask you about, there was an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation of it, and it seems since it’s also a vendor, it obviously brings up this other… this case in Bentiu, which it was a vendor, and the UN said it could do nothing.  First, what can you say to those who say it’s pretty horrendous to continue to pay a contractor which raped an underage girl in the DRC?

Spokesman Dujarric:  What is…  What is horrendous is what happened to the victim and what was done to the victim by those two employees of UTair.  We go back to a story that was, in fact, reported, I think, when it happened a few years back.  Our understanding is that the contractors have been… at the time, were removed and fired from the company.  Both the DRC judicial authorities and the Russians were informed of the… of our investigation into the case.  As we explained in the article, a procedure was put in place at the time to monitor the vendor and the behaviour of the vendor and its staff.  That monitoring mechanism continues.  Every six months, it is reported to our colleagues in the Department of Management, who review it.

I think…  Again, I think the issue of vendors and contractors is a very legitimate one to explore.  Given the criticality of air support, there was a discussion among the Department of Management.  A system was put in place to ensure that this particular company was monitored and monitored on a regular basis, and that continues to do… we continue to do that.  The behaviour of our vendors and the staff that work for them should be at the same level of ethics and behaviour that we expect of our own staff, as they represent us.

Inner City Press:  And was there any accountability for the victims or victims in the DRC, was there actually any accountability, either criminal or civil?

Spokesman:  Again, those… the findings of the OIOS investigation, the UN investigation, were presented to both the DRC and to the Russian authorities, and I think you’d have to ask for them what happened on the criminal end.  As you know, we have no criminal authority.

Inner City Press: In the South Sudan case, where it was also an alleged rape by an employee of a vendor, was any information given to the authorities of either South Sudan…?

Spokesman:  I think we’re still… what happened to Megan Nobert is being looked into.  As I’ve said, both here and in interviews, she suffered horrendously, and our heart goes out to her.  The… you know, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which was the agency that had the contract with the vendor for which her accuser… the alleged attacker worked for, was in contact with the vendor, got him removed.  I know our colleagues at UNICEF are absolutely appalled by what happened to Ms. Nobert.  And when I have more information, I’ll share it with you.

Question:  One final thing.  Do you see this as a pattern?  And two, for example, since it’s a UN system, did UNICEF impose any of these similar rehabilitation and reporting requirements on…


Spokesman:  Like I said, I don’t have all the facts surrounding this case.  I think, again, I would say that we expect…  I wouldn’t call it a pattern.  I think there are hundreds, if not more, of vendors and contractors that work on behalf of the UN who do a spectacular job, partner agencies, partner humanitarian NGOs [non-governmental organizations].  But we do expect anyone who works on behalf of the United Nations to behave to the same ethical standards.  I will…

Inner City Press: The pattern I was asking about is a pattern of a lack of accountability.  Because the UN is working in places that may have not very good… not… not very developed judicial systems and because the UN itself is immune…

[inaudible - the reference was to the UN shirking responsibility for introducing cholera into Haiti]

Spokesman:  I think it’s obviously something we need… it’s something we need to look at.  Our ability to prosecute people criminally is obviously not there.  It’s up to national… either the authority where the crime took place or the citizenship of where the people worked."

  Shouldn't the UN provide some protection and accountability for aid workers in the employ of non-governmental organizations funded by the UN system, particularly inside UN "protection" camps like that in Bentiu?

 Given the vendor issue in both the DRC and South Sudan cases, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access opines that it would have been better if the Guardian had linked to BuzzFeed on South Sudan in its otherwise good story.

 On July 28, Inner City Press asked the UN's top humanitarian, Emergency Relief Coodinatory Stephen O'Brien, about the case. Video here. O'Brien said he had recently been in the Bentiu camp but, not speaking specifically of the case he said he did not know, to his credit he said that facts should be looked into and investigated. But will they be?

  Minutes later Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric why such an investigation was not done in this case -- did it turn on the fact that the alleged victim did not work for the UN system but for a UN fundee? Video here.

   The UN to its July 27 transcript added, "[The Spokesman later clarified that Ms. Nobert did not work directly for the UN. She was employed by an NGO doing contract work for a UN agency.]" Compare to actual briefing, video here.

  She worked for Nonviolent Peaceforce, which received a $1 million grant from UNICEF for child protection in South Sudan, click here for that.

  Not only did UN spokesman Dujarric refuse to identify UNICEF, run by former US government official Anthony Lake, as the UN agency which did not act on the alleged rape, except to provide "contact information" of the contractor -- UNICEF, which was in charge of the bore hole drilling in which the alleged rapist was engaged, has not directly responded on the scandal.

   Nonviolent Peaceforce, meanwhile, has simply published an advertisement for a(nother) "Senior Programme Manager, Nonviolent Peaceforce, South Sudan," here.

  The alleged rapist, named as Amed Asmail, seems to also be called Ahmad Ismail, whose Facebook page here pictures him playing music, listing in his bio working with "South Sudan -Life For Construction."

 Inner City Press on July 27 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric what accountability there is when UN agency personnel themselves are raped. Video here, and embedded below.

  Dujarric began by calling it a horrendous act - then said that what the UN system did was give the victim the contact information of the contractor. But, Inner City Press asked, since Sudan-based Life for Construction has let the alleged rapist Amed Asmail's contract expire, how will this "contact information" help the victim?

  Dujarric declined to even identify the agency, which used public funds to contract for water bore holes for the Bentiu camp; when Inner City Press asked if it was UNICEF or IOM, he cut the question off. Video here.

  What we can report is that UNICEF, nearly always in charge of the water cluster for the UN system, said on its website in April 2014, here, that UNICEF

"has maintained staff in Bentiu and is rapidly responding to the urgent needs, drilling new boreholes for water, and today flying in parts for the construction of new latrines. However, UNICEF said it remains hindered by a lack of funding and access."

  UNICEF also sat on reports of the sexual abuse of children in Central African Republic; we'll have more on this.

For now, here's this, and now UN's transcript of briefing - a [parenthetical] was later added, highlighted below in bold:

Question:  Sure.  Questions on Burundi but I wanted to ask you something, you may have anticipated coming.  It was a story which was on Friday on BuzzFeed, quite detailed, about an aid worker in the UNMISS camp (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) in Bentiu, who alleges that she was raped by a UN vendor or contractor working for Life For Construction.  Basically the gist of the article is that the UN did absolutely nothing and OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) said they could not investigate and there are no recording or reports of sexual abuse or exploitation by vendors anywhere in the UN, DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or other systems.  So I wanted to know, what is your response to it?  What does the UN owe people in its protection of civilian camps if they are raped there, and why was nothing done in this case?

     Spokesman:  Well, I think this was clearly a horrendous act and I think people who work, aid workers, humanitarian workers, who work within UN camps are owed the best possible protection, that's clear.  In this particular case, the agency for which Ms. Nobert worked is greatly concerned for the well-being and safety and security of all those working with it to deliver humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world and it took these particular allegations very seriously. 
[The Spokesman later clarified that Ms. Nobert did not work directly for the UN. She was employed by an NGO doing contract work for a UN agency.] When it became clear that the person accused of the attack on Ms. Nobert was, in fact, an employee of a company hired to undertake work for the agency and not an UN staff member, the agency concluded it was not a position to conduct an investigation into the alleged actions of that person itself.  All of the agencies private contractors are aware of the high standard of conduct the agency accepts from their staff and the agency gave Ms. Nobert the contact details of the employer of the person accused of attacking her, so that she could take her complaint directly to the company.  The agency also instructed the company to remove the individual immediately from any project involving the agency.  

However, given the highly sensitive nature of the allegations, the agency had to respect both the need for Ms. Nobert to raise her very serious complaint with those who can take actions and the rights of the accused person for due process.  It therefore did not share the specific nature of the complaint with the contractor, allowing Ms. Nobert to decide on how and when she wanted to do that.

The agency concerned believes that in this complex circumstance it did the best it could to support Ms. Nobert, to take her complaint forward.  I think it's clear that, in any of these cases, we also need to take a look how we responded and how we can do better in responding to horrendous cases like this one.

     Question:  Thus seems to imply… obviously, Life for Construction, they have already terminated the individual, so there is no more relationship between them. So is there… what is the UN saying is the accountability mechanism for this alleged rape?  And, two, you keep saying the agency. Was the agency in charge of boring water holes in the Bentiu camp?  Was it UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), was it IOM (International Organization for Migration)?  Which agency are you speaking of?

     Spokesman:  As the article makes clear, Ms. Nobert specifically requested the agencies she had contacts with shall not be named and we will respect her wishes.

     Question:  Who is in charge of boring the water holes?

     Spokesman:  That is what I have to share with you and, if I have, more I will share with you.

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