UN, French forces mired in sex abuse cases in Central African Republic
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The United Nations is investigating new reports of sexual violence by its peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, following allegations that 98 girls have been abused. There are similar allegations against the French force known as Sangaris, which on Wednesday announced it would be pulling out of Bangui sometime this year.
The new allegations have compelled senior officials at the UN to convene crisis talks all this week. At the same time the Security Council is set to meet on Thursday to hear the latest information gathered.
More than 25 cases of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers have been reported this year alone, and stakeholders are at pains to figure out how to stop it.
UN officials say they are still investigating the latest claims, which are said to have been reported in a remote village about 200 km away from the capital Bangui, where communication is difficult.
"If these newly reported cases are confirmed, the numbers of cases involving minors would go up to one hundred," Marixie Mercado, Chief of Communications for Unicef, told RFI by phone from New York.
Unicef has already been treating 50 victims of sexual abuse, providing them with medical assistance, psychosocial support and material support such as hygiene kits. Mercado added that an additional two million dollars had been unblocked to increase staff capacity should the new allegations be confirmed.
Meanwhile among Central Africans the news has sparked an outcry: "Peacekeepers are sent into the field to do good things, but what they're doing is bad for them and it's bad for us," Narcisse Benoit, a military prosecutor told RFI, before adding, "If they are opening an investigation it's a good thing."
Investigations are also being opened into alleged misconduct by the French forces under Operation Sangaris. On Wednesday French Defense minister Jean Yves Le Drian announced their departure from Bangui sometime this year, much to the dismay of Central Africans like Public Prosecutor Ghislain Gresenguet.
"We are a little surprised, because we relied on the Sangaris force," he said. "They have an impressive military capacity and we thought they would be able to help the new government restore stability. But unfortunately we've learned - to our stupefaction - that this force will be soon be leaving and it's a shock to all of us."
Central African Republic's newly-elected president Faustin Archange Touadera took the oath of office only on Wednesday, ushering in the first elected leader since Muslim rebels overthrew the government three years ago.
The French army was dispatched to help restore peace. But Gresenguet argues that their reputation has been dealt a serious blow by the sex allegations.
"I regret the situation. The French army, which is an elite army, has always flown to the rescue of the Central African population. It's this image that Central Africans want to keep. However, with these types of allegations of abuse, it damages their reputation. And this is why legislators need to investigate what really happened and find those responsible."
But investigations often struggle to get off the ground, partly because international peacekeepers operate under the legal jurisdiction of their home countries, making prosecution more difficult.
"So far we've questioned the victims, we've heard statements from witnesses and families, but the principal suspects are still in France!" Gresenguet complains.
Sex to the abusers
"These facts have been around for a while and the UN has never done anything about them," Doudou Sidibé, a lecturer at Paris Novancia business school agreed.
"Reports have been submitted in the past but no sanctions have been taken, that's why we keep seeing these facts coming back."
Sidibé puts forth a dramatic new proposal to halt the peacekeeper sexual abuse that has plagued the UN for decades: authorized sex.
"We all know when we are married, we need this anytime. If you are far from your wife or girlfriend, you are tempted to do this with other people. The UN, in the same way it provides peacekeepers with food and lodging, should preview [sic] some kind of sex-house to allow them to have sex anytime they need."
At the UN level, calls are growing for member states to assume temporary oversight, management, and control of all aspects of the current crisis.
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