GENEVA — Questions over the handling of a confidential United Nationsinquiry into allegations of sexual abuse by French soldiers in the Central African Republic deepened on Friday when an advocacy group published leaked documents that it said detailed the reactions of senior human rights officials.
The advocacy group, AIDS-Free World, said the documents showed a wider awareness of the accusations within the United Nations than previously understood, as well as what the group contended were attempts to cover them up. United Nations officials said the leaks were selective and distorted the facts.
The French authorities are investigating accusations raised by United Nations investigators in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, that troops sent to halt violence in the impoverished country had bribed hungry children into performing oral sex in return for food. The abuse is alleged to have begun in December 2013 and lasted into mid-2014, when the United Nations human rights office in Bangui began an inquiry. There have been no arrests.
First reported by The Guardian a month ago, the allegations threaten to become a distraction to the high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan, on the job for less than a year. The leaked documents published on Friday by AIDS-Free World appeared to show that senior United Nations officials, rather than having acted immediately on the abuse allegations instead started disciplinary proceedings against a human rights official, Anders Kompass, who last July leaked the report detailing the allegations to the French authorities.
“The choice of documents leaked by AIDS-Free World was highly selective and the interpretation significantly distorted,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview.
In particular, he said, AIDS-Free World’s narrative did not address a concern that the report Mr. Kompass gave to the French government still contained the names of witnesses, violating the confidentiality that is a tenet of human rights investigations to ensure the safety of witnesses. “It is the sole reason for the internal investigation,” Mr. Colville said, dismissing any suggestion of a cover-up. AIDS-Free World, the source of leaked documents about the disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Kompass, which were first published in April, said the additional documents further completed what it described as a picture of bureaucratic self-interest.
“The documents indicate a total failure of the U.N. to act on claims of sexual abuse,” Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, based in New York, said in a statement published with links to the documents. Ms. Donovan asserted that more than 30 officials had been aware of the allegations for months and took no action. When Mr. Kompass, a Swede, resisted pressure to resign by threatening to go public, according to her narrative, they conspired to silence him and mask their earlier inaction by starting the internal investigation.
AIDS-Free World has not revealed the source of the leaked documents. Efforts to reach Mr. Kompass were not immediately successful.
Documents leaked so far include a statement by Mr. Kompass’s immediate supervisor, Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, acknowledging that she failed to follow up on the report when he brought it to her attention. They shed no light, however, on why Mr. Kompass did not pursue the matter with Navi Pillay, the high commissioner at the time and a strong advocate for action to curb sexual abuse.
Ms. Donovan rejected the criticism of her organization by Mr. Colville of the human rights commissioner’s office. “They know they’re on the run, and lashing out is an attempt to create a smoke screen,” she said. If her group had selectively leaked documents, she said, “let the U.N. produce those documents that debunk our narrative.”