UN: Lack of accountability drives sex abuse in CAR

UN human rights chief says culture of impunity allows sex abuse to continue as six shocking allegations come to light.

Bangui French Peacekeepers
UN operations have been marred by consistent accusations of sex abuse and exploitation by foreign troops [AP]

The lack of accountability and corrective action by member states on United Nations troops who commit sexual violence in conflict zones has created a culture of impunity, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein’s statement on Friday came after six new cases of abuse were brought to the commission in recent weeks.

Hussein said the UN was “extremely alarmed” at continuing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors in Central African Republic (CAR) by European UN troops, and urged member states to take stronger action.

“These are extremely serious accusations and it is crucial that these cases are thoroughly and urgently investigated,” Hussein said.

“Far too many of these crimes continue to go unpunished, with the perpetrators enjoying full impunity. This simply encourages further violations,” he added.

Repeated abuse

The latest revelations come after a joint UN team in the CAR interviewed six young boys and girls, from the M’Poko camp for the displaced in the capital Bangui, who said they had been sexually exploited or abused by foreign troops.

Four girls, aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the alleged abuse, said their abusers were attached to the European Union operation (EUFOR/CAR). Two of the girls alleged rape while the other two said they were paid to have sexual relations with the soldiers.

READ MORE: Are UN peacekeepers doing more harm than good?

Two other children, a girl and a boy, who were aged seven and nine at the time of the abuse, accused the French soldiers of abuse. According to the UN, the girl said she “had performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies”.

Both children said that many other minors were abused in repeated incidents involving French soldiers. 

The UN said that the high commission raised the cases with the European, Georgian and French authorities, as well as with another country on a similar allegation for which additional corroboration was still required.

Marked by inaction 

Melanie O’Brien, a research fellow in law at the University of Queensland, told Al Jazeera that the problem of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and foreign troops was one marked by inaction.

“It’s been more than a decade since these issues have come to light. We have seen cases in Haiti, in the DR Congo and we need to ask member states why they still do not take any action,” O’Brien said.

READ MORE: Fresh abuse allegations against UN peacekeepers in CAR

While the UN has not yet revealed details of the new allegations against peacekeepers, sources told Al Jazeera there were five new cases from peacekeeping troops from Morocco, Niger, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and a police officer from Senegal. 

In January, a UN panel exonerated whistleblower Anders Kompass, the director of field operations for the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, for leaking a report detailing abuse of children by French troops to prosecutors in Paris after the UN showed no inclination to stop the scourge. 

This followed the findings of an independent panel in December which criticised the UN response to claims of child abuse that took place at the M’Poko camp during December 2013 and June 2014.

Source: Al Jazeera