Child's play for powerful to prey on kids

ON TRIAL: These are some of the 22 Congolese soldiers accused of rape-related violations while serving as peacekeepers under the UN mission in Congo in 2014.


    Jun 14, 2016

    Child's play for powerful to prey on kids

    ANDERS Kompass is not as well-known as the self-exiled Edward Snowden or the still-incarcerated Chelsea Manning but is a whistleblower of note nevertheless.

    He was director of field operations at the United Nations human rights office in Geneva who last year leaked an internal report to the French authorities detailing widespread child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

    His decision was not born out of a need for self-promotion or publicity. It was the outcome of deep frustration with an organisation more interested in protecting itself than the children of the DRC from predators in the guise of peacekeepers.

    The abuses took place in 2014 when the UN peacekeeping operation in Congo, dubbed Minusca, was being set up with the claim that "the protection of civilians" was its "utmost priority".

    On the ground, the situation was somewhat different, with French peacekeepers routinely raping and exploiting starving and homeless children, many of whose parents had been killed in the civil war.

    One nine-year-old boy reported how French forces forced him and his friend to perform sex acts in exchange for food.

    In a particularly horrific incident, a French commander forced three young girls into acts of bestiality.

    After the leak became known to the UN, Mr Kompass was suspended for breach of protocol and placed under investigation until a court decision forced the UN to reinstate him.

    While some Congolese troops are under trial and the French government is proceeding with its own inquiry, Mr Kompass handed in his resignation last week, citing the "complete impunity" that these abusers enjoyed together with the "lack of accountability" that he says is entrenched in the UN establishment.

    Many of the abused Kasur children may not have closure.

    And while the UN protects itself, countless child victims in Congo live on with their scars and trauma.

    The girls brutalised by the French commander are derided by members of the community as the French soldiers' "dogs".

    In Britain, a whistleblower who was vilified and framed 40 years ago is finally being vindicated.

    Colin Wallace was a British army officer who tried to warn about systematic and widespread sexual abuse at Belfast's Kincora Boys' Home, a halfway house for troubled teens, in the early 1960s.

    He claimed that the home was being used by well-connected paedophiles, many of whom had political links at the highest levels of government.

    He also claimed that MI5 tried to block the police investigation because it was using Kincora and other such dens of depravity as a means to gather intelligence and blackmail politicians.

    Notably, the chief abuser at Kincora, a man named William McGrath, was associated with radical Irish groups and is widely alleged to have been an MI5 asset, which in turn gave him a degree of protection.

    Stymied by official channels, Wallace presented his information to journalists. As a result, he was drummed out of service, accused of passing classified documents to journalists and then framed for murder, serving six years in jail before finally being exonerated in the light of new evidence.

    Journalist Paul Foot, who has investigated the case, claims that Mr Wallace was framed to discredit his allegations about Kincora.

    Adding credence to this is the fact that in 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself admitted that her government had deceived Parliament and the public about Mr Wallace's role.

    Yet, it was not until former British intelligence officer Richard Gemmel broke his silence a few years back that people began to re-evaluate Kincora.

    Mr Gemmel alleged that he had been directly ordered to "stop any investigation into Kincora" by a senior MI5 officer.

    The web spreads far further, with victims alleging that boys were trafficked into Britain, and in particular to the notorious Elm guest house, where they were brutalised by prominent British politicians.

    Meanwhile, victims like Clint Massey - who has survived several suicide attempts, struggles against addiction to drugs and alcohol and is tortured by his inability to have a normal relationship - plead for Kincora to be properly investigated, even as Mr Wallace warns that "people who know about it are dying and files may be destroyed".

    Closer to home, while two convicts in the Kasur child-abuse case have been handed life sentences, there is little doubt that many culprits still walk free.

    As for the children, they will likely never have the closure and healing they need.

    Societies and institutions decay and die when they make it easy for the powerful to prey on the powerless, and we have seen that it is often children - the more marginalised the better - who make the easiest victims.


    The writer is a journalist.