A United Nations spokesperson said on Monday that the agency that contracted a man accused of raping an aid worker on a U.N. base in South Sudan did "the best it could" after learning about the attack.
As BuzzFeed News first reported on Friday, a humanitarian lawyer named Megan Nobert was drugged and raped at a U.N. base in Bentiu earlier this year. Amed Asmail, who worked for a company contracted by the U.N. to drill holes for water, admitted in the same story to having sex with Nobert, but denied drugging or raping her. Both decried the U.N.'s failure to carry out an investigation.
In response to a question by Matthew Lee of Inner City Press, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, said at the daily press briefing: "The agency concerned believes that [under these] complex circumstances it did the best it could to support Ms. Nobert to take her complaint forward."
"I think this is clearly a horrendous act and I think people who work — aid workers, humanitarian workers — who work within U.N. camps are owed the best possible protection, that's clear," Dujarric said, later adding, "I think it's clear in any of these cases, we also need to take a look at how we responded and how we can do better in responding to horrendous cases like this one."
Dujarric stressed that the agency in question, which was not named in the original story at Nobert's request, is "greatly concerned for the well-being, safety, and security of all those delivering humanitarian assistance anywhere in the world, and it took these particular allegations very seriously." But due to the contractor not being a U.N. staff member, "the agency concluded it was not in a position to conduct an investigation into the alleged actions of that person."
The spokesperson's answers indicate that providing the contact details of Asmail's employers so that she could take her complaints directly to them was all the United Nations concluded it could do. "[G]iven the highly sensitive nature of the allegations, the agency had to respect both the need for Ms. Nobert to raise her very serious complaint with those who could take action and rights of the accused to due process and could not share the specifics of the nature of the complaint with the contractor," Dujarric explained, adding that the agency had Life for Construction remove Asmail from all agency projects.
Dujarric did not answer a follow-up question asking why the United Nations' statistics on sexual exploitation and abuse do not include any mention of vendors or contractors, as reported by BuzzFeed.
Following the assault, Norbet went to the agency in question to report what had happened to her. The agency in turn told her to take her complaint to the same South Sudanese police the U.N. was attempting to train to better handle sexual assault cases. Both she and Asmail wanted an investigation to occur into the incident; the United Nations declined.
Watch the full exchange here:
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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