West Africa: UN team returning to continue investigation into abuse allegations

West Africa: UN team returning to continue investigation into abuse allegations

A United Nations team is returning to West Africa this week to continue investigating charges that refugee children were sexually exploited by aid workers and peacekeepers, the UN's watchdog body said today.

In a statement released Wednesday in New York, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) noted that the team was briefly recalled to UN Headquarters for consultations. The team is comprised of a paediatrician who is an expert on child abuse, a staff member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Inspector General's office and two officers from OIOS.

"The results of the investigation will be made public in a report to the [UN] General Assembly," the OIOS said, adding that any such conclusions would take some time to complete.

In the meantime, OIOS said, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, was developing with the help of relevant agencies "measures and policies to prevent transgressions against women and children [relief workers] are serving."

On 26 February, UNHCR and the non-governmental organization Save the Children UK released an assessment alleging that children are subjected to "extensive" sexual exploitation in refugee camps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone by local staff employed by national and international aid organizations, including UNHCR.

According to the assessment, the information is based on testimony from children in camps located in the West African countries gathered during a 40-day mission to the region by a team from the two organizations.

Last week, a senior UNHCR official, Kamel Morjane, travelled to Guinea and Sierra Leone for a first-hand look at efforts to protect children and to discuss the investigation with local and UN authorities.