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Probe into sexual abuse in Central African Republic must 'leave no stone unturned' – UN rights chief

Helmet and Flack Jackets of UN Peacekeepers.
UN Photo/Marie Frechon
Helmet and Flack Jackets of UN Peacekeepers.

Probe into sexual abuse in Central African Republic must 'leave no stone unturned' – UN rights chief

The United Nations human rights chief today described the latest reports of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Central African Republic as “sickening,” calling for a thorough investigation into alleged conducts by UN and French troops, as well as local armed groups.

“The UN investigation into these sickening allegations, which suggest sexual abuse and exploitation of a large number of women and girls, must leave no stone unturned,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said. “We are taking these allegations – some of which are particularly odious – extremely seriously. It is vital that the victims are protected and receive all necessary care.”

Most of the allegations relate to Burundian and Gabonese contingents present in the Kemo region between 2013 and 2015, as well as to the separate French Sangaris force stationed in the same region in the same period. Allegations of abuse in other parts of the country are also continuing to be investigated.

“The States to whom these troops belong must do more to stop the abuse happening, to punish those committing these acts with appropriate sentences, and to prevent further violations,” Mr. Zeid said. “Otherwise this awful cycle of abuse will never end.”

Simply being sent home in disgrace is a grossly inadequate response to acts such as raping minors, he stressed. The UN has vowed to do its utmost to expose such crimes when they occur, and to do everything in its power to encourage and cajole States to do far more than they are doing at present.

“There has to be accountability and there has to be credible deterrence,” Mr. Zeid said.

The Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General released details yesterday. It said that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) announced on 25 March that it had received new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.

A MINUSCA-led investigation team travelled to the area and is now on the ground. It comprises experts on internal oversight, human rights, child and women's protection, conduct and discipline from various parts of the UN system, including the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The exact number and nature of these extremely troubling allegations are still being determined. Allegations made against the French Sangaris forces in the same area are also being investigated. Alleged victims are being interviewed and will be provided with assistance and psycho-social and medical support. The Burundian and Gabonese units allegedly involved will remain confined in camps during the investigation, except for essential tasks.

The United Nations has formally notified the troop-contributing countries in question, as well as to the French authorities, informing them of these allegations. These countries have been requested to send investigators immediately to participate jointly in the ongoing investigation.

Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare met with Burundi's permanent representative to UN yesterday, and the Security Council will be briefed on the latest developments in a closed session today. A meeting with representatives of Gabon will take place as soon as possible.

Expressing shock at the latest allegations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Our focus must be on the victims and their families. We are talking about women and young children who have been traumatized in the worst imaginable way.”

He noted that while yesterday, the CAR had inaugurated a new democratically elected President, marking the end of a transition period, “we must face the fact that a number of troops who were sent to protect people instead acted with hearts of darkness.” As such crimes must not fester in silence, Mr. Ban said, “the United Nations is shining a spotlight on these despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing allegations. I will continue to be unrelenting in confronting this scourge and raising it proactively at every opportunity.”

The UN chief stressed that his “constant and loud advocacy” must be matched by the actions of Member States who alone have the power to discipline their forces with consequences. “This is essential to restoring trust in the invaluable institution of peacekeeping and – even more importantly – to provide a full measure of justice and healing to the affected communities.”

Also today, the President of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, said he was appalled by the new allegations and announced that he will convene an informal briefing for Member States on the issue.

“These reports and allegations must be addressed in a prompt, transparent and open manner. Sexual exploitation and abuse have no place under any circumstances and betrays the values and principles of the UN,” he said in a statement, underscoring his full support for the ‘zero tolerance’ policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.