Epstein files: Nobody should evade justice, say UN rights experts


UN independent human rights experts on Friday emphasized no-one is above the law, following the unsealing of nearly 1,000 pages of court records in the case of US financier Jeffrey Epstein, which shed light on the disturbing extent of his sexual abuse of teenage girls.

The court documents reveal a horrifying list of alleged crimes perpetrated by Epstein, including sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, rape, sex trafficking, slavery, torture and forced disappearance of women and children.  

Mr. Epstein died in August 2019, after prison guards in New York found him unresponsive in his jail cell where he was awaiting trial.

In a news release on Friday, Special Rapporteurs Reem Alsalem and Mama Fatima Singhateh voiced deep concern over the vast network of underage victims and survivors lured into the “perverse world” of Jeffrey Epstein and his now jailed accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell as well as their ability to operate with impunity “for so many years.”

“The way in which this case is dealt with by law enforcement and the judiciary will set an important precedent for the future.  

“It will either send the message that such crimes against women and children are unacceptable or confirm that power and connections will shield those responsible from accountability,” they said.

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Call for swift investigations

More than 150 people connected to, or simply named in legal proceedings related to Epstein and his network, are listed in the documents made public, according to media reports.

Many of those named are mentioned only in passing or because they play a role in legal proceedings and their inclusion does not in any way suggest wrongdoing on their part.

Given the nature of the criminal activities and the ongoing investigations at the international level, the rights experts urged law enforcement to ensure full, swift and transparent investigations and that judicial proceedings are conducted with immediate effect.  

“All those who may have participated in, or aided and abetted, these heinous crimes of violence against women and children, including through paying for sex and pimping, must be brought to justice,” they said.

Tribute to victims

In a tribute to the courage of victims and survivors who have come forward despite the risks, the Human Rights Council-appointed rights experts highlighted the need to protect their privacy to prevent further stigmatization and trauma.  

They underscored the importance of witness and victim protection, as well as comprehensive, transformative, victim and survivor-centred reparations to shield them from the risks of additional harm.

Ms. Alsalem and Ms. Singhateh concluded with a stark observation, pointing out that cases like Epstein’s demonstrate the continued failure by the international community to prevent the exploitation and abuse of women and children.  

“All this must urgently be addressed through pre-emptive responses and accountability, an aspect which is often forgotten,” they said.

Death and conviction

Jeffery Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on United States federal charges for sex trafficking, after previously cutting a plea deal in 2008 which saw him serve a 13-month sentence for soliciting and procuring a minor, on a work release programme. The so-called non-prosecution agreement helped him avert a possible life sentence, according to media reports.

His accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell, a British citizen, was charged with sex crimes in July 2020 and convicted in December 2021. In June 2022, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Special Rapporteurs

Ms. Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, and Ms. Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, are independent experts, who along with Human Rights Council-appointed working groups, monitor and report on a specific country or rights theme.

They serve in their individual capacity, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary.

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