Four girls are alleged to have been sexually abused by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, only the latest accusations levied against the scandal-plagued mission in the country.
On Tuesday, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that a "fact-finding mission" was currently underway to investigate claims made against an unknown number of UN peacekeepers. He added that staff from the UN's children agency, UNICEF, had met with the four minors on four occasions. "UNICEF is working with a local partner to help the girls receive medical care, and is assessing their psychosocial needs."
The UN did not offer specifics beyond that the girls' status as minors, but said that authorities in the capital Bangui as well as the implicated troop-contributing countries had been provided with details of the cases.
The latest allegations come just weeks after the release of a scathing report from a UN-appointed panel that found the organization's handling of sexual abuse accusations was "seriously flawed." Though that panel focused primarily on the alleged sexual abuse of children in Bangui by French and non-UN African peacekeepers in late 2013 and early 2014 -- and the UN's failure to properly disseminate reporting on the violations -- it also determined that, in general, UN staff had a propensity to view peacekeeper sexual abuse as misconduct, rather than wartime sexual violence that needed to be elevated internally. High-level officials at the mission in the Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA, were cited for repeated failures.
Amid criticism of his handling of those earlier cases, and continued allegations against the missions' peacekeepers, MINUSCA chief Babacar Gaye was forced out this August. But, as evidenced this week, the abuse allegations have not ceased, despite what the UN describes as a zero tolerance policy.
"The reports of further allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are deeply disturbing and highlight just how much needs to be done to stamp out this recurrent practice," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, in a statement on Wednesday. "The investigation is a welcome sign of good intent, but promises of zero-tolerance must be kept, and those responsible brought to justice in fair trials,"
More than 10,000 peacekeepers are currently stationed in the Central African Republic, tasked with maintaining peace between the remnants of a predominantly Muslim rebel force that seized the capital in 2013 and Christian vigilantes that rose up to fight them. Both the rebel group, known as the Seleka, and the anti-balaka militias have been implicated in gross human rights violations, including the targeted killing of civilians.
On Monday, two thirds of the 30 candidates vying for the country's presidency called for elections to be cancelled. In a statement, the candidates called the first round of balloting, which took place on December 30, part of an "electoral masquerade."