The United Nations sent peacekeepers to the war-torn Central African Republic to protect civilians.
But more than 100 women, girls and boys say some of the soldiers raped and abused them — the exact opposite of what the peacekeepers set out to do.
Allegations of sexual abuse by foreign and local forces have emerged from the Central African Republic since the U.N. sent forces to the country in 2014.
“When the most vulnerable in this world, women and children who have lost everything, when they look to the United Nations for protection, they should do so in the belief that their suffering is over, not just beginning,” Peter Wilson, the UK’s deputy representative to the U.N., said at a meeting about the crisis Tuesday.
Years of violence
U.N. involvement in the Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest nations, stems from political violence that began three years ago.
Other African nations and France sent peacekeepers after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013. Christian and Muslim militias battled for control before a tentative political transition began.
The violence prompted a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes.
Almost two years to the day since the U.N. established its mission in the Central African Republic, officials are meeting to discuss the latest round of allegations thousands of miles away at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York.
More than 100 victims said they were sexually abused by U.N. peacekeepers and non-U.N. forces, a U.N. official said Tuesday.
“Tragically, the vast majority of the victims are children,” said Edmond Mulet, the U.N.’s chief of staff on sexual exploitation and abuse. Officials say women and children, both male and female, have reported dozens of assaults.
He added that these allegations “remain reports” and that “we need to verify and investigate them swiftly and professionally.” No victims testified at this meeting.
If the allegations are substantiated against particular units, then the U.N. can decide whether to repatriate them, but not prosecute them.
Accountability, he said, is a “shared responsibility.”
“It is only by working with member states, especially troop-contributing countries, that we will be able to ensure accountability and justice for the victims,” Mulet said.
“All member states (must) live up to their responsibility to bring to justice those who have committed crimes while serving with the United Nations.”
U.N. credibility in jeopardy, report says
A 14-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch she was walking down a path in the bush when a soldier approached her in December.
“He ripped off my clothes and used them to tie my hands behind my back,” she said. Then she was assaulted.
The U.N. issued its own report in December about sexual assault by its peacekeepers. It’s over 100 pages, but its findings can be summed up in two words: We failed.
“Overall, the response of the U.N. was fragmented and bureaucratic, and failed to satisfy the U.N.’s core mandate to address human rights violations,” it said. “In the absence of concrete action to address wrongdoing by the very persons sent to protect vulnerable populations, the credibility of the U.N. and the future of peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy.”
But as this year has progressed, more sexual abuse allegations have surfaced involving peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic.
A U.N. report in March indicated that 17 of the allegations last year have so far been investigated, with 10 found unsubstantiated. The U.N. Security Council issued its own resolution on March 11, calling attention to the issue and issuing recommendations.
But a wave of particularly horrifying allegations surfaced at the end of the month, spurring a series of particularly strongly worded news releases for a diplomatic body like the U.N. CNN cannot independently confirm the allegations.
The U.N.’s top official in charge of human rights called the new accusations “sickening.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said they were “despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing allegations.”
The U.N. would not confirm to CNN what specifically the new allegations were.
At the meeting Tuesday, Atul Khare, the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for field support, called on the countries that sent those accused of the crimes to discipline them and carry out “criminal sanctions warranted under their national laws,” adding that new legislation should be proposed if current law would not cover prosecution of these alleged crimes.
The U.N. has also said that implicated troops must remain confined to their camp, “except for essential operational tasks and increasing the presence of military police at affected locations.”
Khare said they are working with children’s agency UNICEF to ensure services and extra funds are available to help affected communities.
The number of allegations is expected to rise, he said.