The U.N. Official Who Blew the Lid off Central African Republic Sex Scandal Vindicated

The U.N. Official Who Blew the Lid off Central African Republic Sex Scandal Vindicated

This story has been updated.

Anders Kompass, a senior U.N. human rights official who was disciplined last spring for leaking a confidential report documenting the sexual abuse of children by French and African peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, has been cleared of wrongdoing by an independent U.N. panel, according to a copy of its findings.

The findings, which were obtained exclusively by Foreign Policy, provide a major vindication for Kompass, a former Swedish diplomat who in April was marched out of his office by U.N. officials in disgrace. He was accused by U.N. leadership of recklessly endangering the lives of underage victims by leaking an internal account of the abuses, including the names of the victimized children, to the French government in 2014.

The findings also present a setback to Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who triggered a pair of investigations into Kompass’s conduct and sought to force him to resign.

But Kompass is not entirely in the clear.

The U.N.’s internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, is conducting its own investigation into whether Kompass acted improperly in disclosing confidential material to the French government about its troops’ conduct in CAR. Last summer, the U.N. oversight body — whose probe into Kompass’s conduct in CAR is also the subject of the panel’s review — reopened a separate investigation into claims that Kompass, then-director of the field operations and technical cooperation division (FOTCD) within the high commissioner’s office, improperly shared sensitive information with the Moroccan government on U.N. policy in Western Sahara. It remains unclear whether that investigation is ongoing.

Even today, a cloud of suspicion still hangs over Kompass among some of his colleagues in Geneva. While an initial probe into the Western Sahara case found no misconduct on Kompass’s part, some officials in the high commissioner’s office “remain convinced” that Kompass “misused internal information to gain a member state’s support in a promotion he was seeking,” according to the panel report. That member state is Morocco.

Those officials, according to the panel, also said they suspected Kompass shared confidential information with the French “to curry favor in support of some unspecified personal agenda.” Some U.N. officials say that Kompass, backed by the Swedish government, was pursuing the No. 2 job in the high commissioner’s office. The panel said it found “no basis to conclude” that Kompass had a “self-interest or ulterior motive” in furnishing French authorities with the U.N. report on the CAR abuse.

The panel provided a scathing account of how the U.N.’s top leadership failed to respond appropriately when confronted with evidence of sexual abuses in CAR and how they rallied behind the U.N. high commissioner for human rights in is efforts to discipline Kompass.

It cited a pair of high-level meetings in March and April 2015 where Ban’s former chief of state Susana Malcorra, met with Zeid, as well as the heads of the U.N. internal oversight office and ethics office, which are purportedly independent, to coordinate the organization’s response to the allegations against Kompass.

The panel concluded that the conduct of Malcorra, Zeid and other top U.N. officials, including Herve Ladsous, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping department, and Joan Dubinsky, the head of the U.N. ethics office, had mishandled the affair. But it stopped short of charging them with an abuse of authority.

However, the panel did conclude that Carman Lapointe, the former chief of internal oversight, abused her authority. “Lapointe failed to preserve the appearance of objectivity and independence required to maintain the credibility of her office and the investigation process,” according to the panel. “She failed to meet her duty to conduct a careful and methodical examination of the circumstances before initiating an investigation.”

The panel also found that the head of the U.N. mission in the Central African Republic, General Babacar Gaye of Senegal, as well as the mission’s director of the U.N.’s Human Rights and Justice Section, Renner Onana, for failing to act on the allegations of sexual abuses. In August, Ban forced the resignation of General Gaye following reports that sexual abuse continued after the U.N. took over the peacekeeping mission in April, 2014. “Enough is enough,” Ban said.

Onana “made a deliberate decision not to report the allegations with any urgency to the High Commissioner fore Human Rights in Geneva,” the panel stated. “Indeed, he encouraged [Gaye] to keep allegations quiet, rather than taking steps to ensure French authorities halted ongoing abuse.”

In a statement issued after the panel released its report, Zeid expressed “his absolute support for the Secretary General in his determination to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse by all international peacekeeping forces.” But he stopped short of addressing the specific charges leveled against him in the report.

The three officials accused of abusing their authorities challenged the charges in written responses to the panel. General Gaye said that he believed that U.N. mission had taken steps to prevent further abuses of the children and that it was the responsibility of the High Commissioner for Human Rights office to take the lead in “investigating cases of alleged sexual exploitation.”

Lapointe denied charges that she had compromised the independence of her office by complying with a request by Zeid to conduct an investigation into Kompass’s conduct. “I did not “comply with the High Commissioner’s request,” she wrote. “I independently assessed the allegation and the statements provided and decided the matter needed to be investigated.”

Onana also denied he had acted improperly, saying that his office vigorously investigated and documented the abuses and that senior U.N. officials in New York and Geneva were informed and failed to act on the revelations. The panel, he wrote “seems to inflate my role in order to best protect the principals in New York and Geneva as well as in Bangui who failed to respond.”

“The charge of abuse of authority does not stand and is not bringing justice and fairness to the incredible work we did in relation to this investigation,” he added.

The sexual abuse controversy stems from allegations, dating back to December 2013, that troops serving under a French intervention mission called Operation Sangaris, as well African Union forces from Chad and Equatorial Guinea, repeatedly molested minors at a camp for displaced civilians near the Bangui M’Poko International Airport. An internal U.N. investigation into the charges found that the troops bartered military rations for sexual favors from destitute children as young as 8 years old. In at least one instance, Chadian soldiers allegedly raped a child.

That internal U.N. report, known officially as the “Sangaris Notes,” didn’t target U.N. peacekeepers, who did not arrive in the country until April, 2014. Nonetheless, the CAR scandal marred the reputation of the U.N., which was seen as moving too slowly to act forcefully enough to ensure the perpetrators were held accountable.

For his part, Kompass had previously insisted that in giving the Sangaris report to French officials, he “acted with the only concern of stopping the violations as soon as possible,” according to an account he provided to U.N. officials earlier this year.

The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, faced criticism from the United States and other member states for mustering a more energetic response against Kompass for disclosing the abuses than on holding the sexual abusers themselves accountable for their crimes.

Responding to such concerns, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June appointed a three-member panel of judges to review the U.N.’s response to the scandal and the U.N. leadership’s treatment of Kompass. The team includes Marie Deschamps of Canada; Hassan Bubacar Jallow of Gambia; and Yasmin Louise Sooka of South Africa.

The three-member panel is due to release its findings later Thursday at U.N. headquarters. But a leaked portion of the report, given to FP, shows the panel found no fault with Kompass’s decision to alert the French government.

“The panel finds that the transmission of the Sangaris Notes to the French authorities, even in an unredacted form, does not constitute an improper use of a position of authority,” the report concluded. “Since the first criterion of an abuse of authority is not present, no adverse finding is made against the director on this issue.”

The panel also found fault with the French government, noting that the author of the Sangaris report had in May 2014 informed French military officers in Bangui that their troops were sexually abusing children at the M’Poko camp, though the U.N. didn’t provide them with the confidential details. No action was taken at the time.

In reaching its conclusion, the panel found there were “strongly divergent” views within the U.N. human rights office over whether Kompass, its third-highest ranking official, was authorized to furnish the French government with an internal U.N. report. The panel found that U.N. policies allow U.N. officials — especially someone as senior as Kompass — wide latitude to quietly consult on confidential matters with U.N. member states on a “need-to-know basis,” as long as they seek proper assurances of confidentiality.

“Such ‘quiet diplomacy’ is entirely consistent with the director’s own job description,” the report said. “There is … a well-established basis in U.N. policies for U.N. staff, and indeed for the director of FOTCD in particular, to share information with respect to human rights abuses with relevant governments.”

The panel mildly chided Kompass, saying he could have acted with greater regard for the privacy of individuals named in the Sangaris report. But it said suggestions that he had exposed witnesses to risk were “overstated.” If the U.N. held such concerns, the panel noted, it should have been expected to take “urgent steps” to protect the victims from possible backlash. “No one took any steps whatsoever to locate the children or to relocate them out of the M’Poko camp in the fall of 2014,” according to the panel report.

The report supports Kompass’s long-standing claim that he had informed his superiors of his decision to brief the French government about its troops’ abuses. On Aug. 7, 2014, more than a week after handing the investigation notes to the French, Kompass informed Flavia Pansieri, an Italian national who served then as the U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights, he had transmitted the report to the French.

Pansieri, who resigned earlier this year, citing an undisclosed long-standing medical condition, told the panel in October she had informed Prince Zeid of Kompass’s actions. At the time, Prince Zeid was in his first month on the job and appeared to be preoccupied with the Western Sahara case. Pansieri said she soon forgot about the meeting.

The fact that the meeting “did not leave an imprint on her memory probably reflects that she saw nothing untoward” in his behavior,” the panel’s report found. “It seems disingenuous for the U.N., in March 2015, to revisit the director’s conduct in transmitting the unredacted Sangaris Notes and to characterize it as ‘misconduct.'”

In the end, the panel concluded that Kompass’s decision to inform the French had a “significant and positive effect,” prompting French authorities to take “strong and immediate action to investigate the allegations.”

“The response stands in stark contrast to the apparent failure of French authorities to react after [a U.N. human rights officer] advised senior Sangaris officers of the allegations” in May 2014, according to the panel.

Photo credit: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images