Canadian Marie Deschamps to head UN panel investigating child sex abuse allegations

Marie Deschamps, a former Supreme Court justice and author of an inquiry into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, April 30, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld

TORONTO – Former Canadian Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps has been named to an independent panel to investigate the United Nations response to allegations its peacekeepers sexually abused children in Central African Republic (CAR).

Deschamps released a critical report in late April on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian Armed Forces.  Now she is turning her attention to the alleged failure by the UN to protect victims of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation in the war-torn CAR.

READ MORE: Canada’s military chief apologizes for ‘biological’ wiring remark on sexual misconduct

The widely reported allegations in the CAR have become a growing scandal for the UN. An investigation by UNICEF in May 2014 found evidence peacekeepers exchanged food for sex from children facing an increasingly desperate situation.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a in a statement Monday the threemember panel – which will include Deschamps of Canada; Hassan Bubacar Jallow of Gambia; and Yasmin Louise Sooka of South Africa – will review both the allegations and any shortcomings by the UN in response to the ongoing crisis.

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“The UN will make its best efforts to facilitate the access of the panel to non-UN personnel,” the statement said. “In addition to those that the panel may reach out to, any person who wishes to provide information relevant to the External Independent Review is encouraged to contact the panel directly through an external email address that will be announced shortly.”

The probe is expected to take 10 weeks, but could be extended.

READ MORE: UN chief condemns ‘appalling’ child sexual abuse allegations in meeting with member states

The UN’s announcement comes just two months after AIDS-Free World — co-directed by Paula Donovan and Canadian advocate Stephen Lewis — leaked a UN report detailing child sexual abuse by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic to the Guardian.

The report details the sexual abuse of starving and homeless young boys by French peacekeeping troops at a centre for internally displaced people in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic.

The charity has campaigned for a full investigation into the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse by its own peacekeeping personnel.

“We urge the Panel to take an uncompromising approach: examine every avenue, including the system-wide failures of leadership, and fix what has plagued peacekeeping for decades,” said Donovan in a statement Tuesday.

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The United Nations currently has more than 125,000 troops, police and civilians working in 16 operations around the world.

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