The UN rights chief yesterday expressed alarm at new allegations of child abuse by foreign peacekeepers in the troubled Central African Republic, including cases involving European Union troops.
Reports of sex abuse by soldiers serving with French and UN missions in the country already surfaced last year, but the latest charges detailed in a UN statement are said to date back to 2014 but to have been discovered in the last weeks.
Of the several girls interviewed by UN officers, four “said their abusers were attached to contingents operating as part of the European Union operation”, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said, adding he was “extremely alarmed at continuing allegations”.
“Two of the girls interviewed said they were raped by EUFOR soldiers, and the two other girls said they were paid to have sexual relationships with other EUFOR soldiers,” the statement said.
“While the nationalities of some of the soldiers remain unclear, three of the girls said they believed their abusers were members of the Georgian EUFOR contingent. The four girls were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the alleged abuse.”
The alleged abuse took place at a sprawling camp for displaced people at M’Poko, near Bangui’s airport.
Reacting to the allegations, EUFOR said in a statement “the EU takes these allegations very seriously”.
But the “responsibility for any investigation, disciplinary or criminal action remains in the hands of the contributing States”, EUFOR added.
Georgia pledged to examine the case.
“Each and every one of us, at both national and international levels, must do everything possible to ensure that those individuals committing such crimes are held responsible,” Georgia’s defence ministry said in a statement.
“It makes no difference as to who they are, which country they represent and what language they speak,” it said.
Zeid said UN human rights staff also interviewed two children allegedly abused in 2014 by soldiers from the French Sangaris force deployed to contain brutal sectarian violence.
Fourteen soldiers from the French force are under investigation in France over allegations they forced children to perform sexual acts in exchange for food.
The girl and boy interviewed by the UN in the cases linked to the French were aged seven and nine respectively at the time of the alleged attacks.
“The girl said she had performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies. Both she and the nine-year-old boy said that other children were abused in a similar fashion in repeated incidents involving several French soldiers,” the statement said.
“These are extremely serious accusations and it is crucial that these cases are thoroughly and urgently investigated,” Zeid said.
“Far too many of these crimes continue to go unpunished, with the perpetrators enjoying full impunity. This simply encourages further violations,” he added.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “just in 2014 ... there were more than 2,500 reported cases of sexual violence and rape” in the Central African Republic.
He also insisted that “peacekeeping forces have played an important role” in the strife-torn country.
So far a total of 26 cases involving peacekeepers in the UN’s MINUSCA force have been reported.
“As more and more cases emerge, implicating more and more national contingents, it is also clear that all foreign military forces, whether UN or non-UN, must employ much stronger and more effective actions to prevent further abuse and exploitation - and not just in CAR,” Zeid said.
The UN has not said which nationalities were involved nor how many troops were accused, but sources allege soldiers from Gabon, Egypt and Morocco were to blame.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the 10,000-strong MINUSCA force last year over the mounting number of cases, but the allegations have continued to surface.
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