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In CAR, Rape by UN Peacekeeping Part of Pattern, No Answers, Ladsous Cover Up

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 11 -- 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.

   Now Amnesty International reports in detail on the alleged rape by UN Peacekeeping of a 12 year old girl in the PK5 neighborhood of Bangui on August 2.  It appears to be a case of rape as a weapon of war.

 So why, as Inner City Press has previously asked, doesn't the UN's Sexual Violence and Conflict office and Special Representative Bangura deal with UN Peacekeepers using rape as a weapon? This is not, as Bangura previously answered Inner City Press, sexual abuse or exploitation: it is rape as a weapon of war. Where is Ladsous, and how does he remain in his position?

  At the August 11 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about UN Peacekeepers' exemption from the UN "End Rape in War" office, and if Ban would belatedly in this case identify those charged, and disclose findings and punishment, if any. Video here. Transcript below.

  Dujarric among other things said Ban might speak to the press later in the day -- to Inner City Press' question if there wuold be Q&A, no A -- but as of 4:50 pm, it had not happened.

  This is part of a pattern, occuring under UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous who pointedly has refused to answer Press questions.

From the UN's August 11 transcript:

Inner City Press:  Sure.  I hear what you're saying about… about… I mean, first, the announcement, but I did want to ask you a question since I'm not sure if the Secretary… will be able to get answered by the Secretary-General.  And it has to do with this.  The allegation by Amnesty International is that this rape took place the day after peacekeepers were fired at in PK5.  So, it seems to smack of… not of sexual abuse and exploitation only, but also rape as a tool of war, as a weapon of war.  And I know that, in this room, Ms. [Zainab] Bangura said that her mandate doesn't cover UN peacekeepers.  And so, I wondered, is that something the Secretariat would reconsider given… at least in this case, if not other cases?

Spokesman:  What I referred to in my opening statement were troubling allegations of abuse, so abuse writ large.  Obviously, the Mission in Central African Republic has been looking into this, and we expect them to investigate the exact circumstances of these allegations thoroughly and quickly.  There are… we are talking about alleged… cases of alleged abuse or misconduct by UN peacekeepers, whether they be military or formed police units.  There are very clear procedures in place on how to investigate and deal with those issues.  Ms. Bangura's mandate is given to her by the Security Council.  We do expect the procedures already in place to be used to fully investigate and, if necessary, discipline those who have committed these alleged crimes.

Inner City Press:  If… if the Mission finds what Amnesty International alleges to be true, is the maximum UN penalty repatriation to the country of the peacekeeper?

Spokesman:  I think… we're… we're talking about hypotheticals here.  So, let me try to answer it without referring to the exact case.  Obviously, if a crime of this nature is committed by a military personnel, it is… it comes under one set of rules, and as we all know, the UN has no direct authority over the uniformed personnel.  That person would be repatriated, and we would expect them to face justice, be it military or civilian justice, in their home country and be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  If it is a civilian person or if it is a police officer, my understanding is that that is different.  Obviously, the case… we would be in touch with the local authorities, and obviously, the authorities of which that person is… their nationality, so to speak.

Inner City Press:  And one last thing.  There was… it was said that the Secretary-General was considering moving beyond sort of anonymity for countries and non-disclosure of what actually happens.  Would this… can he say, without yet knowing what the Mission will decide, that, were they to find this to be true, that this would be the case to dispense with that?

Spokesman:  I would just refer… I don't think there's a change in policy.  I think I would refer you what the Secretary-General said in his latest report -- would be that it is his intention to do so.

  For 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." Transcript below.

  On August 5, Inner City Press asked UN Peacekeeping's leader in CAR, Babacar Gaye, who said that the Panel had visited Bangui. So, UN Peacekeeping knew.

  Did only Ladsous' DPKO, in the UN Secretariat, know about this visit by the "independent" Panel? On August 6, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, as transcribed by Inner City Press, video here:

Inner City Press: Earlier in the week, I asked Farhan if the panel would travel to CAR, and he said there’s no way we would know. Yesterday Babacar Gaye said they have already traveled there. Does DPKO know where they’re traveling, and you don’t?

Spokesman Dujarric: I think the point is, I’m not keeping track of them, because they’re independent. So, they go wherever they need to go, they do whatever they need to do. They do what they need to do. Obviously, their travel needs to be arranged, there are logistical arrangements that they rely on us for. They’re not traveling on their own. There are logistical and security concerns I’m sure people know where they are going. But it is not my job to keep up with them and give you a play by play of who they’re talking to or where they’re going. We’ll see what they come up with ata the end and, as I said, we will share their report.
Inner City Press :Any update on the French prosecution of the individuals accused?

Spokesman Dujarric: No. I do not. My understanding is that that investigation is continuing.

 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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