UN peacekeepers have again been accused of sexually abusing minors in the Central African Republic, and this time the alleged victims are homeless children.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the mission in the country, MINUSCA, received reports of the alleged abuses last Friday. Dujarric said that the sexual abuse of "street children" in the capital, Bangui, may have begun last year and continued in 2015. He added that the UN had notified the country that had contributed the peacekeepers, which he did not name, and that an investigation was underway.
"The UN mission in the CAR, MINUSCA, reports that it has received allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated against street children in Bangui by members of one of its contingents," Dujarric said. "If the allegations are substantiated, this would constitute a grave violation of UN principals and the code of conduct for peacekeepers."
The latest accusations come just weeks after MINUSCA reported allegations that a peacekeeper sexually abused a young girl in CAR's east.
The UN has also come under intense scrutiny for delaying action on earlier incidents involving French and African peacekeepers in the country. MINUSCA had not yet been deployed when those peacekeepers reportedly abused and raped young boys near a camp for displaced persons starting in December 2013, but some of its staff who were already in the country compiled a report detailing the allegations. A peacekeeping official, Anders Kompass, was later suspended for leaking an unredacted version of the report to French authorities. No peacekeepers have yet been charged in connection to those cases.
On Monday, Ban announced the composition of an independent review that will look the UN's handling of the earlier allegations, as well as of similar UN reporting.
Violence broke out in the Central African Republic in late 2012, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels took up arms against the government. The Seleka captured Bangui in March 2013 and proceeded to oversee a campaign of terror, looting, pillaging and killing scores. Anti-balaka militias made up mostly of Christians were organized to counter the Seleka and implicated in their own atrocities.
In December 2013, French troops arrived in the country to augment the existing African Union peacekeeping force in the country, which had proven largely unable to clamp down on the violence — and which was itself implicated in killings. Abuses against children by French troops near Bangui's airport began soon after their arrival, according to the UN report leaked by Kompass. France has since launched its own investigation into the allegations.
The French forces, known as Sangaris, successfully drove the Seleka from Bangui and other areas in the country's West. In September of last year, MINUSCA was deployed as a de-facto split of the country emerged, with ex-Seleka elements in control of parts of the north and east, and anti-balaka militias in the west. In recent months, MINUSCA and Sangaris have struggled to intervene in fighting in areas along informal border areas between the two areas. Last week, a report found that the illicit trade in diamonds was helping to finance the continued bloodshed.
Despite the UN's recent effort to publicize what it says has been a marked drop in allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against its personnel, it has continued to field damning evidence that such incidents are vastly underreported.
Earlier this month, the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services released a report that included a survey of some 231 Haitians — 229 women and two men — who told investigators that they had engaged in "transactional sex" with peacekeepers there. Because almost none of them said that they were aware of UN regulations prohibiting sexual exploitation or aware of how to report it, these incidents are likely unreflected in existing UN figures.
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