UN, France vow zero impunity in C. Africa sex abuse scandal
WASHINGTON DC, USA – French President Francois Hollande and UN chief Ban Ki-moon vowed zero impunity Friday, April 1 for troops accused in a Central African Republic sex scandal, as the United Nations pledged to stamp out abuse during peacekeeping missions.
The commitments came a day after the United Nations said more than 100 victims had come forward in the conflict-torn country with horrifying new accounts of sexual abuse – including bestiality – by UN peacekeepers and French forces.
In light of the new allegations, Hollande and the UN secretary-general "expressed the desire to establish the truth, and to reject any impunity," the French presidency said in a statement.
Speaking on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington, Hollande said that, if true, the allegations would be a "stain on France's honor."
"We cannot – and I cannot – accept the slightest stain on the reputation of our armed forces or of France," he said.
UN investigators have identified 108 alleged new victims, "the vast majority" of whom are under-age girls who were raped, sexually abused or exploited by foreign troops, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday, March 31.
Multiple witness statements gathered by Agence France-Presse at a camp in Bangui said young girls would have sex with men – some of them soldiers – in exchange for bread, or cash worth the equivalent of less than $1.
And AIDS-Free World, a civil society group that tracks peacekeeper sex abuse cases, said 3 girls told a UN rights officer that in 2014 they were tied up and undressed by a French commander inside a camp and forced to have sex with a dog.
The girls were then allegedly given about $9 in payment.
The French defense ministry says the French troops, if convicted, would face strict military discipline in addition to any criminal penalties that may be brought.
France sent an intervention force dubbed "Sangaris" to the Central African Republic in December 2013 to help control sectarian unrest.
They were not part of the UN mission, known as MINUSCA, but have been mandated by the Security Council to help restore peace to the country.
The UN mission took over from an African Union force in September 2014 as the country was still reeling from a wave of bloodshed.
Besides French troops, allegations have been levelled against the Burundi and Gabon contingent of the UN mission.
Dujarric said the United Nations would carry out joint investigations with Burundi and Gabon of incidents that allegedly took place between 2013 and 2015.
Herve Ladsous, the UN under-secretary for peacekeeping operations, said his organization was discussing the possibility of implementing courts-martial and DNA testing in countries where abuse occurs.
"This would show victims we are dealing with their plight," Ladsous said during a visit to Bangui, the Central African capital.
He also suggested taking DNA samples of troops about to deploy on peace missions "to facilitate paternity tests" in case of claims.
MINUSCA counts about 12,600 foreign police and soldiers, as well as more than 500 foreign civilians.
As disturbing allegations of sexual assault by troops targeting civilians mounted, Ban in August fired the mission chief, but new claims have continued to emerge.
Earlier this week, the United Nations reported two new cases of sexual abuse by Burundian and Moroccan troops, including one that involved a 14-year-old girl.
In a bid to prevent new abuses, peacekeepers are now confined to their barracks when not working. – Herve Asquin, with Margaux Benn in Bangui, AFP/Rappler.com