UNITED NATIONS, New York: A former Supreme Court justice of Canada will lead a review of how the United Nations handled allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic, the UN announced Monday.
Marie Deschamps will chair the independent panel that will include Hassan Jallow of Gambia, a prosecutor of the UN tribunal for Rwanda, and Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the Foundation of Human Rights in South Africa.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of the panel earlier this month following a furor over allegations that French troops had sexually abused children at a camp for displaced civilians near Bangui, from December 2013 to June 2014.
The United Nations has been badly shaken by accusations that it failed to act quickly to respond to the serious claims contained in a report by UN rights investigators that was leaked to the media in April.
At least 14 French soldiers are under investigation over allegations that children were forced to perform oral sex in exchange for food.
The report also provided accounts from children, aged 8 to 13, who said troops from Chad and Equatorial Guinea brutally raped boys.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the panel will have unrestricted access to all UN records, staff members and other UN personnel to assess the world body’s response to the allegations.
Deschamps, who served on the Supreme Court for 10 years until 2012, has recently presented a report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian armed forces.
The panel will begin work next month and aim to submit a report within ten weeks.
‘Very damaging’ for the UN
French troops were deployed to the Central African Republic in December 2013 to help African Union peacekeepers restore order after the country exploded into violence triggered by a coup.
The contingents were deployed months before a UN peacekeeping force took over from the AU mission.
Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, said the scandal had been “very damaging” for the UN’s global work to advance human rights.
“This issue will not go away. We need to get to the bottom of it,” Simonovic told reporters.
“If we, who are always requesting accountability aren’t ready to establish facts and go for accountability, we would be losing all credibility.”
Simonovic said the panel should not focus on who is to blame for the poor handling of the child abuse allegations but more on the UN’s rules and procedures for addressing such cases.
“I don’t think we should just have sacrificial lambs. I think that we should go for the system. There is room for improvement of the system,” he said.