Code Blue Whistleblower Deep-sixed with Arielle Silverstein’s Participation

Arielle Silverstein, a performance evaluator for the United Nations—and wife of Tony Ortega—participated in deep-sixing an investigator of sex abuse against children by United Nations peacekeeping troops in North Africa, thus contributing to a cover-up of those crimes.

Those are allegations levied by U.N. whistleblower Peter Gallo, a former international investigator at the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, who was part of a cadre of investigators and aid workers who sought to expose the abuse, but instead faced punishment for their efforts.

A so-called “Code Blue Campaign” by outside activists in Africa identified 23 French and African peacekeepers who allegedly trafficked in child sex. Details were leaked to the French government and to The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, ostensibly by U.N. whistleblowers. The Guardian reported in 2015 that the allegations led to the suspension of Andres Kompass, the aid worker who first attempted to expose the scandal.

In January, a lengthy investigation into the affair ended without indictments.

Coincidentally, Silverstein’s husband, Ortega, was the primary mouthpiece defending Backpage.com, the online classified advertising outfit whose principals have recently been indicted in connection to Backpage. Ortega while editor of the Village Voice tabloid stridently attacked journalists, human rights activists, officials and others who sought to end Backpage.com’s child prostitution business.

Gallo believes top U.N. officials, including Silverstein, punished him as a U.N. investigator after he sought to expose the scandal. When he tried to reapply for his investigator’s license after the reports, Silverstein, then a member of the U.N.’s Management Evaluation Unit (MEU), delayed his application until he lost his job at the organization.

Silverstein’s alleged mishandling of the reports—whether accidental or purposeful—contributed to retaliation against U.N. whistleblowers who had documented a pattern of sex trafficking and abuse of child refugees by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central Republic of Africa.

Gallo suspects that Silverstein took orders from higher-ups to participate in a cover-up of the human rights abuses — a position anathema to the U.N.’s efforts to fight human rights atrocities around the globe. Gallo testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations in April 2016 about his investigations.

Silverstein claimed that “delays” occurred because she was pregnant at the time. Gallo asserted that after 153 days of the evaluations being ignored, MEU decided that they didn’t have jurisdiction over the case. Eventually, Gallo took his case to the U.N. Dispute Tribunal, the internal justice system that hears and decides cases filed by current and former staff members. He described the experience at the U.N. as Kafkaesque, and a “nightmare.”

“If you didn’t have jurisdiction, you could have said that on day one,” Gallo explained.

“When I went to the (U.N.’s administrative) Tribunal, they said it was too late. So, by delaying and delaying and delaying, the Management Evaluation Unit kept me hanging on and on.”

Public outrage after the raping of children incidents were exposed created controversy within the U.N. hierarchy. In mid-December, incoming U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a public statement that the issue remains one of critical importance. “The United Nations system has not yet done enough to prevent and respond to the appalling crimes of sexual violence and exploitation committed under the U.N. flag against those we are supposed to protect,” he said in a public statement. “I will work closely with Member States on structural, legal and operational measures to make the zero-tolerance policy for which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has fought so hard a reality.”

Gallo charges that when Kompass approached him with a detailed account of sexual exploitation of children by French peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic in 2013-14, his report, rather than being addressed, drew heavy fire from U.N. officials. After Gallo lost his job and exhausted attempts at administrative resolution, he filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor, Roberta Baldini, seeking $6.5 million in damages and alleging that he was defamed and faced retaliation over his supervisor’s conduct. But he said he later walked away from the suit, concluding that succeeding against the U.N.’s legal battery was “utterly ridiculous … They (the U.N.) thought it was a bloody joke.” “Basically they did nothing,” Gallo said. “And these kids were getting sexually abused on an ongoing basis.” The report leaked by Kompass and supported by Gallo accused French soldiers of raping and sodomizing starving and homeless young boys. Instead of pursuing charges, the United Nations began investigating the employees who leaked internal U.N. findings to France’s government, and to the Guardian.

Gallo believes Silverstein’s actions as part of the U.N.’s MEU deliberately blocked the renewal of his investigator’s license to protect the Secretary-General’s reputation after press reports about the sex scandal.

“The Secretary-General with his senior staff believe that bureaucracy and an unfounded charge of leaking confidential information is more important than stopping the sexual abuse of vulnerable children.” Gallo said that when the information got to the U.N. Ethics Committee’s High Commission on Human Rights, they pushed the report aside. “They said, ‘We have nothing to do with it,’ because the allegation is against … French peacekeepers.”

Newsweek reported that the controversy both prompted activists to call for U.N. personnel to be stripped of immunity from prosecution for sex crimes, and set the stage for outside investigations of wrongdoing.

Gallo said sexual exploitation and abuse in the U.N. has been an unresolved problem for a number of years at the Office of Internal Oversight Services. “Part of the problem is due to the U.N.’s deployment of poorly trained and ill-disciplined troops,” Gallo told the Congressional subcommittee. Civilians in armed conflict have long been victims of abusive soldiers. And U.N. peacekeepers have been no exception.

Published reports point to countless acts of alleged brutality by peacekeeper’s in the world’s poorest nations, including 99 complaints of sexual abuse by U.N. soldiers last year alone—a 25 percent increase over 2014. Those reports involved peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, the Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali and Sudan. Under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, roughly 104,000 blue-helmeted troops were deployed in more than a dozen countries to protect civilian populations, and reports of abuse among them were widespread. “These allegations are swept under the carpet, out of sight, out of mind,” Gallo contends.

He said the organization has demonstrated a “manifest failure to properly investigate any form of wrongdoing.” Whistleblower protection and American attitudes toward whistleblowing have long been centered around free speech, but framed controversially within political arguments over patriotism, conscience and public responsibility to expose wrongdoing. But whistleblowing at the U.N. has been a more unsettled subject.

Gallo said that historically accused leakers at the U.N. have little say in matters because under U.N. rules “there is no right to whistleblower protection, it’s optional.” Gallo is a trained investigator who has handled fraud and money laundering inquiries for the past 20-years. He said that he’s still enraged by Silverstein’s failure to act on reports, but he had little recourse. “Before you go to a Tribunal, you have to go through the Management Evaluation Unit,” Gallo said. It was Silverstein’s job to evaluate his performance, and her assessment was biased and inaccurate. Gallo said that the U.N. handed him a progress report about his performance on the job when he was employed at the U.N. “There was an extremely bad (performance review) that ran about 24 pages,” he said. “It was a real bureaucratic waste of time …”

After the scandal became public, Gallo noted, Silverstein was transferred out of the Management Evaluation Unit—to a key position, he said, at the U.N.’s Ethics Office.

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