By Carley Petesch, The Associated Press
The United Nations botched its investigation into accusations of sexual abuse in Central African Republic, letting down victims, according to a draft report.
The report, written in 2017 but not yet made public, was leaked to The New Humanitarian and seen by The Associated Press.
A senior U.N. official disputed the findings in the draft report, which the U.N. said were not included in the final report.
An Associated Press investigative series in 2017 uncovered roughly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers around the world over a 12-year period.
The roughly 11,000 peacekeepers in Central African Republic had the most sexual misconduct allegations – 52- of any U.N. peacekeeping mission in 2016.
“The leaked review … gives a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the U.N. system investigates claims of sexual abuse and exploitation by its own peacekeepers – and shows why it often fails the victims it is supposed to serve,” according to the New Humanitarian.
The failed investigation into the allegations in the Central African Republic cost the U.N. more than $480,000.
Inadequate storage ruined DNA samples that had been collected to connect victims to their alleged perpetrators, according to the report.
“Most were already rotten. It is therefore hardly surprising that positive results could not (be) obtained,” the report said of the DNA samples. Many of the samples were taken from March to May 2016, and then they were stored in Bangui for months and were not delivered to the Nairobi office for the investigation until April 2017.
The report noted the importance of the role of DNA evidence in linking a possible perpetrator to a victim. “It was noted that none of the DNA samples collected was deemed usable by labs retained for that purpose,” said the report.
The lack of action on the investigation left victims feeling abandoned and without any recourse for the sexual exploitation they say they experienced at the hands of the Burundi and Gabonese troops, according to the New Humanitarian who spoke with victims.
But Ben Swanson, the director of the U.N. investigations division in the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the U.N.’s internal watchdog known as OIOS, said OIOS “did all of the DNA swabbing in Dekoa, when and where it was relevant, and we also followed up with missions to Gabon and Burundi to swab soldiers identified as fathers.”
In December 2016, the U.N. announced that OIOS had completed an internal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Burundian and Gabonese peacekeepers deployed in Dekoa in Kemo prefecture, Central African Republic.
OIOS interviewed 139 people, investigated their accounts and identified 16 possible perpetrators from Gabon and 25 from Burundi through photos and corroborating evidence, the U.N. said. Of the 139 victims, 25 were minors who asserted that they were sexually assaulted and eight paternity claims were filed, the U.N. said.
“We took swabs from around 20 victims and their children,” Swanson said, and the laboratory used to do the DNA testing was unable to extract any DNA samples from two or three of the swabs which may have been the result of operator error, poor storage techniques or the laboratory.
“Because the victims were adamant as to the identity of the fathers and we didn’t want to miss any evidential opportunities we repeated the entire exercise,” Swanson said.
“I can tell you that the lab was able to say ‘with a high degree of confidence’ that the soldiers identified were not the fathers of the children they were alleged to be,” he said.
The U.N. relies on the country contributing peacekeepers to deal with allegations of misconduct and to determine possible punishments. According to the report, Burundi investigators who went to conduct interviews in 2016 did not have the necessary skills and experience. The interviews seemed to look to discredit witnesses, it said, and interpreters also lacked the needed skills.
The U.N. has vowed to end impunity for sexual misconduct and to work with countries supplying peacekeepers to do more to combat the abuses.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has taken strides to improve the world body’s response to sexual abuse and exploitation, appointing the U.N.’s first-ever victims’ rights advocate, banning alcohol and fraternization for troops, convening high-level meetings on sexual abuse and exploitation and establishing a trust fund for victims.
The U.N. received 259 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse last year, according to The New Humanitarian, a major increase from the two previous years.
Associated Press journalist Edith M. Lederer contributed from the U.N.