The United Nations human rights chief has urged several States to intensify their efforts to investigate long-standing allegations that soldiers in their forces sent to keep the peace in the Central African Republic (CAR) may have committed very serious violations, including killing of civilians and sexual exploitation of local women.
“People in CAR were desperate for protection. The role of international forces in halting the worst of the fighting and sectarian slaughter in CAR has been invaluable, and their presence has unquestionably saved many, many lives. Yet, in some cases the longed-for protectors turned into predators,” he added.
“In the wake of the revelations of alleged serious sexual abuse of children, currently under investigation by the French authorities, my Office has taken a deeper look into these issues and the extent of the follow-up into alleged serious violations by soldiers belonging to several other international contingents,” Mr. Zeid said.
“Some of these incidents have been at least partly investigated, and some States have apparently sanctioned some of the soldiers involved, but the fact that a number of foreign contingents may have been implicated is in itself a matter of enormous concern.”
Several incidents, including ones involving excessive use of force, enforced disappearances and sexual exploitation and violence, were investigated promptly by UN human rights officers on the ground, and subsequently by the International Commission of Inquiry on the CAR, which reported on a range of violations by international forces in December 2014.
The forces involved in these incidents were not operating under the United Nations flag, according to the OHCHR. Nevertheless, foreign soldiers, including UN peacekeepers, have in the past been implicated in crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
“This is a recurring problem involving foreign soldiers operating on other territories and clearly more needs to be done to stop it,” Zeid said
The High Commissioner said that in addition to requesting concerned States to provide more information about the steps they have taken to investigate the allegations, and prosecute anyone found to have committed crimes, he is sending a team from his Geneva headquarters to the Central African Republic to look into possible further measures to address violations.
“The punishment must fit the crime, and some other incidents were reported that may not have been fully followed up on by the States concerned, and we need to get to the bottom of what precisely was done by whom and when. There must be accountability for serious crimes, no matter who commits them,” Mr. Zeid emphasised.