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Panel finds ‘gross’ failure by UN over child sex abuse claims

United Nations: An independent panel sharply rebuked the United Nations today for “gross institutional failure” to act on allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic.

In a long-awaited report, the panel described a breakdown in UN leadership on the ground in Bangui followed by missteps by senior officials in Geneva and New York after the allegations were leaked.

“The end result was a gross institutional failure to respond to the allegations in a meaningful way,” said the hard-hitting report by the three-member panel led by Canadian judge Marie Deschamps.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he accepted the findings of the panel set up following a furor over allegations that French troops had forced children to perform sexual acts in exchange for food at a camp near Bangui, from December 2013 to June 2014.

The findings confirmed that a report by a UN rights official detailing the allegations sat on desks for months until a newspaper report in April sparked outrage over the case.

“The manner in which UN agencies responded to the allegations was seriously flawed” the report said.

“Information about the allegations was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations.”

The report singled out the former UN mission chief in CAR as well as officials from the UN human rights office and the children’s agency UNICEF in Bangui for failing to report the claims to their superiors or taking steps to help the children.

“No steps whatsoever were taken to find the children, relocate them out of the M’Poko camp or assess their security needs until May 2015,” it said.

The head of the UN peace mission, Babacar Gaye of Senegal, was fired in August over his handling of the allegations.

Two of the three officials who were found to have abused their office have left their posts, including Gaye. The third official is still working at the UN mission in Bangui, although not as a human rights officer.

“Given the gravity of these findings, I will act quickly to determine what action might be necessary,” said Ban.

Senior UN officials came under fire, including rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and Ban’s chief of staff at the time Susana Malcorra who pushed for an investigation of the UN rights official involved in leaking the report.

While the panel concluded there was no abuse of office by those senior officials, it said the head of the internal oversight office who has since retired, Carman Lapointe, “failed to meet her duty” to carefully review the facts before launching an investigation.