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On CAR Rapes, ICP Asks UN When Investigation Starts, Why Tear Gassed Protesters

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 12 -- French soldiers in the Central African Republic allegedly sexually abused children, as exposed in a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report leaked to the French government by longtime OHCHR staffer Anders Kompass.

 The UN did not, however, give the report to the host country authorities in CAR. And according to UN documents, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous then urged that the whistleblower Kompass be made to resign. (Ladsous denied this, video here, but then took no questions.)

 On May 12, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about UN Peacekeepers shooting tear gas at protesters in Bangui (Dujarric called it "not a major demonstration") and about HOW the UN will investigate itself.

  Dujarric replied, here, implied that the delay in investigating the rapes was attributable to the leaker, Kompass. But since France acknowledged receipt of the report in July 2014, he is not to blame for the delay. Nor for the UN not formally telling CAR about the rapes.

   Inner City Press on May 12 asked when the independent investigation, implied by High Commissioner Zeid and referred to by US Ambassador Samantha Power, would begin. "At some point," Dujarric replied. More delay.

 On May 11, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq if Ladsous was denying any involvement in the Kompass and CAR rapes case, or more narrowly that he denied urging Kompass to resign, in those words. Video here.

  Haq said it is clear - it isn't - but did not say that Ladsous would be asked, or respond to 21 NGOs' demand that Ban Ki-moon set up an independent and transparent investigation. He claimed that the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Service is both -- but where is OIOS' report on Kompass' previous leaking? What is the OIOS case number on the allegations against the UN Pension Fund by those who work there? Today's UN is not transparent -- but Ladsous had taken it to a new low.

  On May 8, Inner City Press asked US Ambassador Samantha Power about both issues - the UN's failure to tell the CAR authorities, and Ladsous' "surprising" role, as High Commissioner Zeid put it earlier in the day. Video here and embedded below. Then Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, about the contradiction; for the first time, he gave a timeline. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: Iwant to ask you about these alleged rapes in the Central African Republic.  Prince Zeid [Ra’ad al-Hussein] held a press conference today.  Just as an aside, I would have liked to have seen it announced from here on this very topic.  And he said… he was asked directly about what I've been asking you about, the statement in the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling that the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping asked the whistle-blower to resign.  And it was said, and this is why I want to ask you, because I know you said you don't agree with it, but this was a statement that was not contested at the time by the respondent.  So, this means that the UN… the people involved saw the claim and didn't have any problem with it.  I'm not saying that that means it's true.  When you say you don't agree with it, is that a personal position or a UN position?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I don't think I said I didn't agree with it.  I said you're taking it as fact.  It's his position.

Inner City Press:  Which the UN didn't disagree with.

Spokesman:  I'm just saying it's his position.

Inner City Press:  My question on this is, he said he'd like to say more, but would say it to some forthcoming, apparently, investigative commission.  Ambassador [Samantha] Power at the stakeout said the same thing, that all of this needs to be looked at independently.  So, what's the status of that?  Is the Secretariat having any role in that?

Spokesman Dujarric:  There's obviously the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] inquiry going on into Mr. [Andres] Kompass and into everything related to that.  You know, I think the aim right now is to ensure accountability for the victims of these alleged rapes and horrendous abuse [that] these young children suffered at the hands the soldiers.  That's… that should be everyone's aim.  Obviously, there will come a time I think when we will need to take a look at how this issue was handled, but I will also add that there is obviously an internal investigation through OIOS and looking at Mr. Kompass.  At this point, I don't have anything to add.

Inner City Press:  The other thing… something you said yesterday was about this, there was no harm to the French investigation by not lifting immunity because they were written questions that were answered.  There's an article in Le Monde today that says that, yeah, written answers were provided seven months after the questions were proffered and was provided on 29 April, which just happened to be the date on which the exposé was first published.  I'm wondering… you can read Le Monde.  I can read it to you.  But, that's what they are saying, basically.

Spokesman:  You know, I think that there are different timelines going on here.  The prosecutor in Paris has his own timeline.  What I can tell you is that on 10 October, the Permanent Mission of France of the UN sent a note verbale to the Secretary-General, to the Office of Legal Counsel with a request from the… from a French judicial authority, a vice-prosecutor, confirming they had a hard copy of the report, which obviously had gone from Mr. Kompass, requesting for us to waive the immunity of the investigator, the OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] investigator, who authored the report and allowed him to be interviewed.

Following consultations internally, which obviously involve the Mission in the Central African Republic, which involved OLA [Office of Legal Affairs], which involved UNICEF, which involved the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, we wrote back, saying that we will fully cooperate, that we are offering to send them a copy of the redacted report.  And again, here, I can't stress enough the importance of shielding the identities of the victims.  I mean, there are a number of countries in Europe, for example, where it is illegal to share the names of rape victims or of minors who have gone under child abuse, so I think that the issue of protecting the names of the witnesses and those who have been abused is primary.

We also told them that the chief investigator was right now serving in a post in Chile and will provide responses in writing to any questions put forward by French investigators.  We stressed that this cooperation was done on a voluntary basis without any prejudice to the issues of privileges and immunity. That was a letter that we wrote to the French authorities on 5 November.  On 6 February of 2015, we received a letter from the French mission transmitting, obviously, documents that had gone from their own judicial authorities, the written questionnaire and which was for the investigator and reiterating the request to lift the investigator's… the investigator's immunity.  That was on 6 February.

On 30 March, we reiterated our full cooperation to the French.  We provided them with a copy of the redacted report.  We transmitted to them the copies of her… the questions and answers, with the answers provided by the investigator.  We confirmed, yet again, that there was no need to lift immunity because this cooperation would be done on a voluntary basis without any prejudice to the investigation… to our immunities.  I think it serves to remind people… you know, the issue of immunity, I think, is one that is not always fully grasped by those that don't cover the UN on a regular basis.  The UN lifts the immunities of its staff members in a number of cases when they need to testify in front of judges, in front of courts.  We do that.  The immunity is not there to stand in the way of justice being served.  At this point, if there's no need to lift the immunity, it's not lifted.  If there is a need to lift the immunity to provide testimony before a judge or a court in a legal proceeding, it is studied.  It is very often done.

So, I think we're looking at different timelines.  I think different bureaucracies have different timelines.  I've given you ours.  The prosecutor clearly has his or her own; I don't know the gender of the prosecutor.  That's where we are.

Inner City Press:  Just one follow-up.  I appreciate that.  This will be the… there's one date you didn't mention there, which is 12 March 2015, in which the whistle-blower was summoned in and told to resign.  He said and was uncontested by High Commissioner of the Office of Human Rights at the request of the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping.  So, my question is, what was the problem… I understand everything about protecting witnesses.  If the information presumably is provided to prosecutors, like there are rules against it, but it's not illegal for one investigative authority to share the information that could bring about a prosecution with that prosecuting authorities; what's the problem with that?

Spokesman:  I think, again, on Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, I think he spoke to it… he spoke to it at the stakeout.  I've said what I've had to say about Mr. Kompass's allegations.  I think the High Commissioner spoke at length and eloquently this morning, so I have nothing to add.  I think it is vital for the work of the human rights organs of this Organization that, when people give us testimony with the understanding that it will be kept confidential, that it is in fact kept confidential.  I think the High Commissioner said clearly that the investigative responsibility, the criminal investigative responsibility, is in this case with the French soldiers with the French authorities.  It is with national authorities.

The human rights mechanisms in this organization conduct a lot of commissions of inquiry.  We have ones going on on Syria, on the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], to name just two.  People give us testimonies with the understanding that we will be… we will guarantee that this… their names will be kept confidential.  I think that is exactly the issue here, is that when people give us testimony with the understanding that it be kept confidential, we have a responsibility to keep that confidential.  The handling of Mr. Kompass' case administratively, what was said, what was done is being reviewed internally.

  Here is the video of Inner City Press questions to US Ambassador Power:

From the US Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: One issue that has arisen that may not even need to wait for an investigation is that the Central African Republic says that they were never told of this, and given that these were their citizens, I wonder if you—does the U.S. think that when the UN system becomes aware of charges such as these, that the host country should be told? There’s also this issue, in the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling, that the Under Secretary General of Peacekeeping was reported, and the UN didn’t seem to dispute it, to have said that the whistleblower should resign or be suspended. And I wonder, this seems like a pretty serious charge. What do you think of that? Do you think that that is appropriate? What do you think of the treatment of the whistleblower who brought it to light?
Ambassador Power: "I think, on a lot of these issues, we’re all going to be better off if we allow an impartial investigation to take hold. And, I think, you raise a really, really important issue about host country involvement, and we’d want to, again, get the facts on that. Certainly, it is the case that the host country itself, of course, has the sovereign responsibility for the protection of its citizens, and so, looking at what role Central African Republic authorities played or didn’t play has to be part of this.
"And then, in terms of the individual who disclosed the allegations, who worked for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, again, it’s extremely important that any individual who comes into possession of allegations of this gravity acts swiftly. It is also extremely important that victim and witness safety be a very significant, a primary consideration as well. And so again, the impartial investigation will look at the handling and how both the issue of speed and the issue of victim and witness protection—how those issues were handled."

  It is an answer that may move things forward. Ladsous, it should be noted, just this week snubbed a Joe Biden-linked Hemispheric peacekeeping conference in Uruguay, wasting an $8,000 first class plane ticket and angering many troop contributing countries. He refuses to answer Press question, for example on rapes in Minova, DRC and Tabit in Darfur.

   As noted, on May 8, High Commissioner Zeid held a press conference, and twice refused to comment on why Ladsous was said to have pressured to fire or suspend the whistleblower.

  Inner City Press has covered Ladsous' role from the beginning, and highlighted his appearance in Paragraph 9 of the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling reinstating Kompass. On May 7, Ladsous told Inner City Press, "I deny that" - then refused to take questions.

 Zeid was asked, and first time said he should first give his view of the pressure to the investigator, not the media.

 The second time, he said he was surprised to read it -- his Office did not contest that part of the ruling, effectively admitting it -- and that the head of UN Peacekeeping should not have been intervening about a non-UN force.  Video here.

 Neither he nor the questioners in the room in Geneva said the obvious: Ladsous is a longtime French diplomat; it is not rocket science to read Paragraph 9 as him (inappropriately) still working for "his" country.

 Zeid said other things we'll report later; he alluded to the need for a Commission of Inquiry. Some ask, will Ladsous quit before then? Or after?

 For more than nine months, no action was taken -- no interviews of victims or alleged perpetrators were done -- other than the UN suspending Kompass for the leak, on which the UN Dispute Tribunal ruling recites that UN Peacekeeping chief Ladsous requested Kompass' resignation. (See Paragraph 9, here.) Ladsous told Inner City Press he denies it - then refused questions.

  Early on May 8, UN system staff complained to Inner City Press that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid of Jordan, in a closed staff meeting on May 8, tried to downplay the scandal, going so far as to blame imams in Bangui for not playing their role.

  But it was OHCHR which didn't even give the report of the rape of CAR children to CAR authorities, only to the French.

  In places, Zeid appeared to try to use his record ten years ago on sexual abuse to shift the blame to imams.  Inner City Press has shown a failure by his Office to act on past leaking, to Morocco. We'll have more on this.

  On May 7, Inner City Press asked more questions about this - including to Herve Ladsous himself.

  After a long closed-door consultation meeting of the Security Council, Ladsous emerged. Inner City Press asked him, based on Paragraph 9 of the UNDT ruling, Why did you ask Kompass to resign?"

  Ladsous stopped and said, "I deny that." Inner City Press put the handheld video online, here.


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