The head of an advocacy group that leaked a United Nations report revealing that a dozen French peacekeepers are suspected of sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic (CAR) has accused the UN of attempting to "cover-up" its findings.
The leaked UN internal report obtained by Aid-free World revealed that between 10 and 12 boys, aged eight to 15 and lacking food and shelter, were forced into rape and sodomy by UN peacekeepers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea, in exchange for food and money, at a centre for internally displaced people in the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014.
"You can say it was a UN cover-up," Paula Donovan, co-director of the AIDS-Free World, told IBTimes UK.
"The UN's disturbingly self-defensive instincts are all about how can we protect the bureaucracy, not how can we protect and treat the victims and prevent any instance of future abuse in these particular locations or in any other locations around the world."
'No intervention' to protect the victims
Officers from the UN, Unicef and the Commission for Human Rights interviewed the boys between 5 May and 24 June, 2014, but apparently no action was taken in that period.
"There's no indication of an intervention on the part of the interviewers to ensure that the authorities apprehended the perpetrators described by the very first victims they interviewed, and no indication that the children were referred immediately to professionals who could offer them treatment," said Donovan.
In the summer of 2014, the report was passed to officials within the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, but when nothing happened, Anders Kompass, the UN's director of field operations leaked the report to the French authorities who opened an investigation.
Last week, Kompass was suspended from his post and accused of leaking a confidential UN report and breaching protocols.
Donovan called the UN's focus on Kompass "typical, and tragic".
"I just think their concern is completely inversely focused on the damage control of the United Nations, and I see absolutely no indication that they are concerned about the children or stopping the abuse," she said.
Soldiers could have been immediately identified
Donovan, who leaked the damning report to The Guardian, claims the perpetrators may have been already brought to justice if only the incidents occurred somewhere other than war-torn CAR.
"If these things happened in the western world, and some organisation was having interviewed a western child on 5 May and heard these horrible accounts and then waited until 24 June until several other interviews had been taken before intervening the way they were normally when a horrible crime is committed against a child, I can't imagine what would happen to that agency and all its senior officials," she said.
The aid worker claims officials had the means to identify the perpetrators early on, as the identifying marks described in the testimonies were "unique" within a very small pool of potential suspects due to the small number of soldiers posted at that particular airport at the time.
"We can narrow it down to skin colour, hair colour, whether or not they are smokers, body piercings, and moles. Any investigator could very quickly narrow down some of the perpetrators," Donovan said.
She added that the soldiers may still be part of the 1,000-strong French military "Sangaris" mission in CAR.
Lack of control and failure to act over sexual misconduct
The UN has faced several scandals relating to its failure to act over paedophile rings in Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo and Bosnia, and allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti, Burundi and Liberia.
To tackle the UN's "lack of control", Donovan is calling for a "thorough and truly independent investigation of the whole UN system including operations and the way all the most senior officials, right from the Secretary General on down, are addressing sexual exploitation and abuse".
Should a mandate be issued to the UN's international civil service about how to change their behaviour, Donovan claims "it may well result in dismissals at the highest levels".
She added: "There is already justification for that from the little we know so far."
UN: an internal investigation is underway
In a statement released on Thursday, the United Nations said it had launched an internal investigation into the handling of the CAR incident by OHCHR, "including the manner in which the confidential preliminary findings were initially communicated to external actors, and whether the names of victims, witnesses and investigators were conveyed as part of that document".
In a briefing, the UN said it was in touch with the French government, which on Wednesday confirmed that authorities in Paris were investigating the allegations.
The defence ministry said that French investigators had gone to the CAR from 1 August last year to begin their inquiry, and that some of the troops had been identified.
Kompass, meanwhile, is under investigation by the UN office for internal oversight service (OIOS).
The UN, which said Kompass' actions do not constitute whistleblowing, did not respond to IBTimes UK's request for comment before publication.