For over 70 years, the United Nations has functioned as a bastion for human rights and defender of the most vulnerable. But what happens when those whose task it is to protect the poor and the weak, women and children -become perpetrators themselves?
Senior UN official Anders Kompass sounded the alarm about sexual abuse by peacekeeping French troops in the Central African Republic, but instead of protecting the victims, the UN directed their attention to Anders Kompass. He was suspended on charges of misconduct and told to resign. Anders Kompass explains why he resigned from the UN.
[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film has been removed on February 24.]
“By the time I reported the sexual abuse of children by peacekeepers in Central African Republic in 2014, I had worked for the UN for nearly 20 years.
There is no hierarchy in the horror and brutality I witnessed during those two decades – massacres, torture, killings, the displacement of populations – but an eight-year-old boy describing in detail his sexual abuse by the peacekeepers meant to protect him is the kind of account I wish I’d never had to read.
I’d also seen a lot of the UN’s dysfunction over the years, but I wasn’t prepared for how the organisation would deal with these events, with the ensuing scandal – and with me.
Cholera in Haiti, corruption in Kosovo, murder in Rwanda, cover-up of war crimes in Darfur: on too many occasions the UN is failing to uphold the principles and standards set out in its charter, rules and regulations. Sadly, we seem to be witnessing more and more UN staff less concerned with abiding by the ethical standards of the international civil service than with doing whatever is most convenient – or least likely to cause problems – for themselves or for member states.
Principally, because the cost to the individual of behaving ethically is perceived as too great. Put another way, the benefit to the individual of not behaving ethically is perceived as greater than the cost of taking an ethical stance.
I acted ethically when I reported the child sex abuse in the Central African Republic to external law enforcement authorities. I provided them with the details they needed, in the midst of a civil war, to quickly find and protect the victims, stop the perpetrators and get information from UN investigators. And yet I was asked to resign. I was suspended from my job following my refusal to do so, and I was publicly pilloried by UN senior officials and their spokespersons over a period of months while being investigated for improperly disclosing confidential information.
The UN rarely holds employees to account for unethical actions, particularly those in positions of power. Even when it does, meaningful punishment seldom follows. The UN’s accountability system is broken. It simply doesn’t work.
In my country, Sweden, ministers quit over allegations of misappropriating the equivalent of $10 of public money. In contrast, at the UN, staff found to have concealed the sexual abuse of children, or to have displayed questionable conduct, do not feel it necessary to resign; nor does the organisation seek their dismissal.
After months of agonizing wait, I was exonerated by both the external and internal entities that investigated my case. This means that having been portrayed as guilty by the UN – over what felt like a very long period of time – and then having been recognised as innocent, there was a reasonable expectation that the principles of justice that the organisation preaches to member states would have been applied. However, to my knowledge and up to this date, the UN has neither taken any initiative to address the systemic issues of internal accountability raised by the behaviour of UN officials towards me, nor initiated any process of redress for the “very real negative consequences” suffered by me and my family and recognised by the external panel.
Human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, corruption and exploitation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ongoing abuses by peacekeepers in a number of peace missions – the world only knows about them because someone broke the silence and leaked. This is quickly becoming a systemic response to the UN’s ethical failure.
And yet the organisation reacts to these scandals by punishing those who try to hold an ethical stance, hiding the truth to the extent possible, and striving to tighten its control over information. Instead of creating a culture that welcomes whistleblowing as an opportunity to strengthen organisational values and standards, the UN promotes an atmosphere of fear and marginalises individuals seen as not toeing the line.
Even after all the dust had settled on my case, I was never made to feel that I was fully accepted back on board as a valuable staff member. Indeed, it became impossible for me to meaningfully contribute any longer. And if I cannot be useful and continue to fight for what I have always believed in, then it is my time to go.
That is why, after 21 years of service, I have resigned from the United Nations.
I still believe in the defence of human rights. I still believe that a universal organisation is needed to improve the chances of world peace and progress. But I also believe that without great changes aimed at resurrecting ethical behaviour within the UN, the organisation will not be able to successfully address the challenges of today and of tomorrow.
And on that last point, my experience has unfortunately left me skeptical."
Full statement of Anders Kompass is available here: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/opinion/2016/06/17/exclusive-ethical-failure-why-i-resigned-un
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