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Review: U.N. Failed To Respond To Abuse Allegations In Central African Republic

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now let's hear about a scathing critique of the way the United Nations handled allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. An independent panel says there were, quote, "gross institutional failures," and that has led to more abuse. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Almost two years ago, U.N. staffers heard some startling allegations from young children sheltering at a camp where they were supposed to be protected from a brutal ethnic and religious war. They said that French peacekeepers were offering them food in exchange for sex acts. And that's the kind of information that should have quickly risen up the chain, says Canadian judge Marie Deschamps, who led an independent panel looking into this.

MARIE DESCHAMPS: This should have prompted urgent action. Even after the second interview, there was enough to say something. There was enough to react.

KELEMEN: Instead, she says, the report was passed from inbox to inbox. The U.N. Special Representative in C.A.R. turned a blind eye, she says, and human rights officials in Geneva didn't do enough either.

DESCHAMPS: This report should have been sent to Geneva with a flag. And then the High Commissioner should have been informed. And the High Commissioner should also have stepped in to make sure that French authorities were informed.

KELEMEN: One official did, eventually, pass the report to French authorities, but Deschamps faults the U.N. for spending more energy investigating that man for the leak rather than responding to the actual abuse allegations. Another author of the report, South African human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, says countries also need to act and prosecute those who commit crimes.

YASMIN SOOKA: And as long as that doesn't happen in a way in which victims are able not to just to say that justice is being done, but to see that justice is being done, you're never really going to be able to deal with this problem.

KELEMEN: While the peacekeepers involved weren't under U.N. command at the time, there have been more allegations since the U.N. took over. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is expressing profound regret that children were betrayed by the very people sent to protect them. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.