Corruption At The United Nations

smart bookies close bets on reformation of the UN

The tenth Principle of the United Nations pledges to tackle corruption in all its forms, but does it exclude graft within the organisation that shamelessly buries heinous crimes committed by staff and contractors?

In Brief

  • It’s no secret that the United Nations hasn’t lived up to its mandate as protector of the vulnerable. Our own reporting and Wikileaks’ dump of over 70 UN investigative reports exposing various heinous crimes, bear testimony
  • Crimes and allegations of misconduct including rape, human and sex trafficking and mistreatment of refugees in conflict spots around the world awash the purported protector. In the media recently were allegations that French soldiers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic, acts that have been synonimous with the UN workers
  • Almost a year after our report on the abuse of a young woman by a UNHCR protection officer in South Africa, the office of Inspector General has yet to show interest in the case
  • As calls for UN reforms amplify, Code Blue, a campaign run by Aids-Free World, reveals how the UN systematically buries its scandals. Tactics include intimidation and smear campaigns against perceived detractors, and thorough coaching of spokespersons on how to handle media queries

Since the end of the cold war, calls for reforming the United Nations have amplified. The organisation, infromally established in 1941 to promote allied forces, is yet to yield to the calls. UN members seeking reforms have quickly learned the importance of courting endorsements of members of the club previously known as the ‘Four Policemen’ in reference to US, Soviet Union (now Russia), UK and China. A fifth member, France, was later incorporated to create the now so-called P5 group, the veto-wielding permanent members of the UN.

And so when Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of African Union (a permanent observer at the UN, AU's fifty-plus members are also members of the UN) got the undivided ear of visiting US President Barack Obama, she reminded him of Africa’s quest for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

In her speech delivered in Addis Ababa, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma unleashed her diplomatic skills; “Your visit takes place during the seventieth anniversary of the UN, when we recall the founding Declaration that proclaimed ‘…the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…’

She then put Africa’s case to the world through President Obama - the continent’s willingness to remain “a reliable partner to build a peaceful and just world envisaged by the Declaration.” As that undertaking was sinking in, she quipped; “As we do this work, we must at the same time correct the historical injustices of Africa being the only continent left out from permanent membership of the UN Security Council.”

Would getting that permanent seat fix the rot at the UN? These Declarations mean very little to those who have witnessed and experienced infringements by the Secretariat’s own staff. Take the November 1985 Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. The crimes being inflicted on vulnerable population by UN staff trivialise this Declaration.

Heinous crimes committed by UN employees or its independent contractors are swept under carpets or buried in vaults. When caught out, the standard response by the organisation is denial. Pesky matters are often referred to a few friendly NGOs that the Secretariat has employed to assist in covering up its shenanigans.

How often do we read reports of sexual crimes committed by UN workers and their contractors? How often do we get reports of cases of human trafficking and abuses of all sorts by the same workers? From Bosnia, South America, to West and Central Africa; wherever the blue helmets are deployed there are instances of criminality.

Anders Kompass: Another worthy but marked man

We mentioned the case of Kathryn Bolkovac, the US police officer who was recruited by military contrator DynCorp to be part of UN’s International Police Task Force in Bosnia. When she reported the atrocities that were being committed by UN’s own workers and contractors against vulnerable young women trafficked into Bosnia for sex, she became a marked woman. That was at the turn of the millennium.

During the same period, in West Africa families were being disintegrated by civil war. When the UN stepped in, refugees in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone experienced deplorable treatment by the organisation’s own workers and contractors.

A UNHCR and Save the Children-UK 84-page report dated January 2002 opens with a quote from a refugee child; “You people should have taken care of me. Instead you abandoned me.”

The report’s key findings were an indictment of the world:

  • Sexual exploitation of refugee children in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is very extensive.
  • It mainly takes the form of casual informal encounters between the exploiter and the child.
  • Organised prostitution is also found in some camps with pimps targeting adolescent girls.
  • Allegations of trafficking for sexual exploitation were also uncovered e.g. Liberian refugee girls in Guinea being trafficked to Western Europe.

The report went further to identify the exploiters:

  • Agency workers from local and international NGOs as well as UN agencies,
  • Security and military forces including international and regional peacekeepers,
  • Teachers both from government establishments and agency-run education programmes,
  • Camp leaders and other influential people in the community such as religious leaders,
  • Small businessmen and traders, and men with jobs – depending on local economies.

The assessment was undertaken between October 22 and November 30, 2001. It took several months before the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS ) sent investigators to the ground to verify the findings of its own agency.

While we know that Save the Children-UK would have had no reason to doctor its findings, the UN Secretariat however decided to ignore the report and instead sent OIOS to re-investigate the findings. The duration between the two investigations was too long - identified victims could have relocated or even died. 

In a subsequent press statement, UN declared; “Charges of extensive sexual exploitation of refugees in West Africa by aid workers and United Nations peacekeepers have not been confirmed by a thorough investigation…”

Quoting the then OIOS chief, Dipleep Nair, the statement claimed; “None of the allegations against any regular UN staff member was sustained, so in OIOS’s view, the allegations of widespread sexual exploitation by UN aid workers and peacekeepers cannot be substantiated.”

In plain language, UNHCR and Save the Children-UK assessors made up the claims.

The consultants’ report was further blamed for having ‘unfairly tarnished the reputation and credibility of the majority of UN aid workers and peacekeepers who are out there in the field'. That could have been true, but were those aid workers worth protecting? How credible and reputable were they if they had kept silent while young girls and women were being sexually exploited?

The OIOS report did provide recommendations on how to avoid similar cases in the future. This was in 2002, and one would have expected the UN’s Secretariat to have learned some invaluable lessons. Fat chance. The UN has its own laws that bestow staff with diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

Buried in the more than 70 United Nations investigative reports released by Wikileaks is Case No. 0618/05 titled ‘Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Ituri region, Bunia authored by OIOS and marked 'Strictly Confidential'. In this report, OIOS concluded; “…although the allegations suggested frequent and ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse, there was sufficient evidence to sustain only one of the allegations.” [One case is one too many – editor]

Even more telling was the second paragraph of the findings; “However pursuant to its mandate, ID/OIOS is not only responsible for the investigations of alleged violations but also for the assessment of serious risks to UN operations…” Not serious risk to victims. So, OIOS is technically and openly disclosing that their key mandate is to shield the organisation from resulting fallouts!

In April this year, the body that should be the ultimate guardian of human rights (including free speech) suspended its top executive of thirty years, Anders Kompass, for leaking to French authorities a report implicating French troops in sexual crimes in the Central African Republic. The whistleblowing by Kompass - then director of field operations for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - shows the extent of slack at the UN Secretariat in addressing serious allegations and offenses.

Code Blue, a campaign by Aids-Free World, revealed how the UN shields itself, including how UN spokespeople should respond to media queries on the organisation’s scandals. The Communication staff were advised to say: “With regards to the formal investigation of the allegations made by the children, UNICEF was approached by French investigators in early August 2014; the investigators were asked to direct any requests for information through the Office of Legal Affairs, in line with established process. No further requests of UNICEF were made by the French investigators after that point.”

Buying Time: UN's crafted media responses, regardless of the query.

It would appear that the French investigators were not successful with the Office of Legal Affairs and that could have prompted Kompass to do what he believed to have been the right thing.

Like Bolkovac over a decade earlier, the UN is now pulling all stops to find dirt that can stick on Kompass.

The UN, which is clearly overdue for reforms, is a mess. DynCorp has continued to receive millions worth of contracts despite Bolkovac exposing its dirty ways. Last week, The Guardian journalists in New York, Washington and London dropped another bombshell revealing how the UN spent half a billion dollars on contracts with a Russian aviation company whose helicopter crew had drugged and raped a teenage girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the calls for reform mount, it is clear that it will take more than some additional seats at the Security Council to rescue the world. The rot must be addressed decisively.

In September 2014, we exposed abuse of a domestic worker named Jacky by Cape Town-based UNHCR protection officer, Nancy Moindi. After a few ducks and dives, UNHCR’s spokesperson forwarded the issue to the Office of Inspector-General and Case No. COM-14-1105 was dully opened. We have since learnt that the ‘COM’ stands for the origin (Communication Section) and -14- was for the year 2014. The rest of the numbers would indicate the number of such cases opened by the Inspector-General’s office via Communication Section within the specific year.

UNHCR's Protection Officer, Nancy Moindi whose case has been vaulted

So, what type of investigation did the office undertake? A very friendly one, it seems.

Weeks after we published the report, Linda Besharaty, a Programme Coordinator at International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) contacted Jacky with instructions to avail herself for a telephonic interview (investigation). On the scheduled day, October 9, 2014 and 11am (East African Time), Besharaty was joined by her colleague Laila Al Amine, the ICMC’s Operations Officer.

According to the two, they had been commissioned to investigate the matter by the UNHCR (most likely by the Office of the Inspector-General). But as it turned out, for the better part of the over forty minutes ‘telephonic investigation’ the two women grilled Jacky (the victim) on how she got to know our journalists. Was this a larger scheme to manage the risk as stated above, or to try and find dirt on the victim?

“I am not Linda Besharaty and I don’t know anybody by such names, you must have called a wrong number.” 

We recently contacted both the ICMC and Besharaty via email seeking to know the kind of investigations they had undertaken and how many other similar UN investigations they have handled. Despite our system registering the emails as having been received (and most likely read) and forwarded to other parties, we did not receive any response. 

Shortly before publishing this report, we called Besharaty on her Swisscom mobile phone. She denied knowing anybody by her name; “I am not Linda Besharaty and I don’t know anybody by such names, you must have called a wrong number.” We redialled the same number immediately and after several rings, the call went to her voice mail, which announced in English and French that the number belonged to Linda Besharaty who was not available to take the call. The two voices belonged to the same person, according to our voice identification system.

Thw UN sub-contracts individuals who are not credible enough to stand by their own findings. Is this part of the deal the Secretariat has in place with friendly NGOs? We have not heard the last of this. In the meantime, any calls for reforms at the UN must first and foremost target the Secretariat.

Additional reporting by Sr. Theresa in Geneva & Eddah Njoki in Nairobi