United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has removed the head of the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) a day after allegations emerged of yet another sexual abuse scandal among its peacekeepers involving children.
Ban said that he demanded Senegalese General Babacar Gaye's resignation, which he accepted on Wednesday. A new MINUSCA chief has not yet been named.
The latest accusations against the mission, revealed on Tuesday by Amnesty International, include the rape of a 12-year-old girl during security operations in the country's capital, Bangui. The girl, who fled to a bathroom in her family's house when peacekeepers arrived in the early morning hours of August 2, said that she was taken outside to a courtyard and raped by a UN soldier behind a truck.
"More serious allegations have been raised about the conduct of United Nations troops in the Central African Republic," Ban told reporters on Wednesday. "I cannot put into words how anguished, angered, and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN forces."
"I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear," he added.
The alleged rape took place shortly after peacekeepers arrived in a predominantly Muslim enclave in Bangui called PK5 to carry out an arrest warrant. During the operation, peacekeepers came under fire from armed assailants. One Cameroonian peacekeeper was killed, while nine other soldiers were injured.
On the morning of August 3, peacekeepers from Rwanda and Cameroon returned to PK5, where witnesses said they fired indiscriminately at civilians, leaving a father and son dead.
Gaye has represented the UN in the Central African Republic for two years. In 2013, the general was appointed by Ban as his special representative in the country, and also took the helm of the UN's political mission in the country, known as BINUCA. It was during this time that the first incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated international peacekeepers in the country were alleged to have taken place.
The following year, a UN investigator compiled the testimonies of children who described being abused by African Union peacekeepers and members of a French force that was deployed to the country in 2013 as part of an intervention called Operation Sangaris. The handling of that report, which was eventually leaked to French officials by a human rights officer in Geneva, has raised questions about the human rights reporting system at the UN and prompted Ban to create an independent review panel.
After the Security Council authorized the transition of BINUCA into MINUSCA in April 2014, and MINUSCA subsumed the African peacekeeping force on September 15 — at which point many of the AU forces in the country were "rehatted" with blue helmets — the allegations kept coming. In June of this year, the mission said it was looking into accusations that a peacekeeper sexually abused a minor in the Central African Republic's east. Later that month, MINUSCA said it was also investigating reports that "street children" in Bangui had been sexually abused by peacekeepers, possibly over a period of several months.
On Wednesday, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the mission had fielded 57 allegations of misconduct since its establishment, including 11 involving sexual abuse. The newly divulged tally represented a significant increase from what MINUSCA and the UN headquarters had previously made public. It was unclear how many victims were involved in each case.
In a letter to the secretary-general dated August 12, Gaye conceded that "the important progress achieved by MINUSCA has been overshadowed by serious cases of human rights violations, including sexual exploitation."
In his resignation, which was first published by the media outlet Inner City Press, Gaye wrote that throughout his tenure as head of MINUSCA he "took a very robust stand against such acts, swiftly investigating all allegations and ensuring appropriate follow-up where allegations were substantiated."
"And yet, abuses continued," he added. "Going forward, you may wish to consider that there could be a systemic problem."
In his remarks to the press on Wednesday, Ban said that the Security Council would hold an emergency closed-door session on the allegations the following afternoon. Ban noted that on Thursday he would also speak by video conference with his special representatives, force commanders, and police commissioners that are stationed across the UN's 16 peacekeeping missions.
Dujarric said that the UN's peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous, is currently "on leave," a phrase that is often used to refer to UN staff on vacation. He added that Ban had not personally spoken with him about Gaye's dismissal.
The turmoil at MINUSCA comes as its peacekeepers struggle to patrol the broad expanses of the Central African Republic. Violence is at a much lower level than in 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels captured Bangui and oversaw nearly a year of looting and wanton killings. Mostly Christian "anti-balaka" militias rose up against the rebels, but also targeted Muslim civilians.
Watch the VICE News documentary The Human Cost of War in the Central African Republic:
MINUSCA has overseen a de facto split in the country, with remnants of the Seleka in control of much of the country's east, while anti-balaka elements remain prevalent in the south and west. Despite signs of rapprochement from some armed actors, the government of interim President Catherine Samba-Panza remains fragile, and heavily reliant on peacekeepers to carry out basic functions — a weakness that was on full display when blue helmets were requested to carry out the arrest warrant in PK5.
"Babacre Gay inherited a very difficult situation in the Central African Republic, but throughout the course of his leadership, either as the head of BINUCA or MINUSCA, he mishandled allegations of human rights abuses, in particular sexual abuse allegations against soldiers," Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst at the Global Responsibility to Protect, told VICE News. "I don't see it as a surprise that he was asked to tender his resignation."
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