By Irene Gaitirira
Published April 14, 2016
United Nations Organisation (UN) is yet to acknowledge new sex abuse cases by its peacekepers in Central Africa a week after receiving information on 41 new cases from its own United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
AIDS-Free World, an advocacy organisation that says it seeks to “end impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping personnel” through its Code Blue campaign, reads “the culture of suppression of information” in UN’s action.
In a media statement released on April 13, 2016, AIDS-Free World laments that UN headquarters learned on April 7, 2016 about 41 new allegations of peacekeeper sexual abuse of women and girls”; yet the inter-governmental organisation has consistently evaded the issue in its press briefing over the past eight days.
The information to UN headquarters, AIDS-Free World says, was sent during the visit to Central Africa Republic of UN Special Coordinator Jane Holl Lute. It questions why a video in which Lute discusses ‘top priorities’ on April 8, 2016 doesn’t say anything about the new cases; yet “Ms Lute had the information of these 41 new cases when the video was made. Where is the transparency? It’s quite a commentary on the way in which the UN works when the coordinator becomes the lead dissembler.”
At the daily press briefing on April 7, AIDS-Free World says, “Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq told journalists who requested further details regarding over 100 reports of sexual abuse in CAR disclosed by Code Blue on March 30, 2016” that “I don’t have any update for you today, but as we get more information from our peacekeeping and field support counterparts, we’ll certainly relay those on to you.”
On April 11, Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said “We hope to share more details with you as soon as we can.”
Terming the statements of Lute, Haq and Dujarric’s as ‘deeply disappointing’ and as ‘exercises in evasion’ AIDS-Free World says “It’s clear that the culture of suppression of information is still alive and well at UN headquarters.”
AIDS-Free World says the cable sent to UN headquarters on April 7 stated, among other things, that all the alleged victims were women and girls; that food, including rations, and money was exchanged for sex, often with promises of marriage; and that numerous allegations of rapes – when victims went to collect water or when they approached international forces to sell fruit (a pattern of raping closely reminiscent of Darfur).
“With every new piece of sordid information it becomes clear that the UN itself is clearly unable to handle sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations. There is no plan, and there is absolutely no leadership. We are persuaded that the only answer is to take management of sexual exploitation and abuse reports out of the hands of the United Nations Secretariat entirely, and place it in the hands of an external, expert oversight panel, chosen from and responsible to the Member States. When the panel, over the course of two to three years, working in real time, has cleaned up the morass of sexual exploitation and abuse, in every particular, then and only then can the responsibility be returned to the UN,” AIDS-Free World says.