The UN’s discriminatory policies towards Israel are well documented. They are the product of Cold War politics, the power of the Arab League and Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and endemic antisemitism within the institution. They also reflect a failure of commitment to good governance policies of transparency, accountability, impartiality, and due process.
The scandal involving the whistleblowing of Andres Kompass and peacekeepers in the Central African Republic demonstrates, however, that the UN’s institutional failures extend far beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In June 2016, Anders Kompass, director of field operations for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), publicly resigned his position, walking away from more than twenty years with the UN.
Kompass’ resignation was precipitated by maltreatment at the UN, following his 2014 exposure of accounts of child sexual abuse by French, Chadian, and Equatorial Guinean UN peacekeepers stationed in the Central African Republic. Peacekeepers who were ostensibly in the country to protect civilians from the ongoing violence stemming from a brutal civil war.
UN officials from MINUSCA (the UN’s CAR peacekeeping mission), UNICEF, and OHCHR) were alerted to the abuse, but failed to take action. The abuse came to the attention of Kompass, based in Geneva, who shortly thereafter reported the incidents to French authorities. When French investigators arrived in the CAR and began questioning UN officials, they were referred to the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs.
In March 2015, OHCHR officials demanded Kompass resign for “leaking” the allegations of abuse to French authorities. Kompass refused, and the UN launched an official inquiry into his actions. In June 2015, more than year after the reports of abuse surfaced, the UN Secretary General announced an investigation of the peacekeeping operations.
A December 2015 report strongly criticized the actions of UN officials in responding to the abuse, and Kompass was exonerated of any wrongdoing. Yet, scarred from the ethical and professional breaches exposed by the incident, Kompass decided to resign in June 2016. Explaining his resignation, Kompass stated:
“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.”
He further remarked,
“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, 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.”
The CAR peacekeeping affair follows several other UN scandals, including bribery allegations against a former President of the UN General Assembly, the Iraq oil for food program, the Srebrenica massacre, the Rwandan genocide, and the Haiti cholera epidemic.
These incidents reflect fundamental problems with the UN in upholding ethical and moral principles along with good governance standards of transparency and accountability, particularly in the UN’s human rights frameworks. In light of Kompass’ emotional appeal to his former employer, the question is whether the institution is willing or even capable of reform in order to live up to the ideals of its founders.