Monday, November 18, 2019

UN leaders’ abuse of authority

The scrutiny by an independent panel of the UN’s handling of reports that French peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic is a shocking record of a dysfunctional system.

The most serious findings concern how the world organisation failed to take action to stop the abuses and protect the victims, and then failed to investigate and target perpetrators to make them accountable. According to the report, several UN staff felt they had no such obligation or authority, partly because the peacekeepers were not directly under UN command.

They could not be more wrong, according to the panel. It describes this breach as a “breakdown” in leadership on the ground.

But it was not only at country level that things went very wrong. At the top level, instead of targeting the organisation’s shortcomings, UN officials in New York and Geneva took on the Swedish UN Director Anders Kompass, who rightfully passed on a report on the abuses to French authorities. Kompass received the report many months after local UN staff had become aware that these misdeeds had occurred.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein pushed for Kompass’ resignation. When that did not work, UN top officials called for his suspension and launched an investigation into his conduct. 

The panel’s examination of this affair makes it crystal clear that Kompass acted within his mandate. He was in fact the one UN official doing his job, while the others  avoided the matter or outright tried to sabotage a proper handling.

When the UN suffers from such gross negligence both in the field and at headquarters, it makes one wonder about the quality of the organisation in general. It would seem that a major shake-up is in order.