A French soldier serving in France's Sangaris peacekeeping military campaign has been accused of sexually abusing a teenage girl in the Central African Republic (CAR), the latest in a series of sex abuse allegations against French troops and UN peacekeepers posted in the region.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who is currently visiting CAR, issued a statement on Thursday that said the latest alleged incident of abuse occurred "around one year ago," and that the victim was "in her late teens" at the time of the attack.
The girl, said Zeid, gave birth to a child in April and has filed a paternity case with local authorities. Zeid added that UN staff in CAR were informed of the allegations on August 30 and had alerted the French authorities.
The French government told AFP Thursday that French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had "ordered an immediate command investigation," and that the case would be handed over to the public prosecutor in Paris. The Paris public prosecutor's office was unable to comment on the investigation when contacted on Friday by VICE News.
"Although this particular case did not involve UN peacekeepers, there have been a number of other cases in CAR — and elsewhere — which have," said Zeid, who added that governments with a military presence in foreign countries had "an obligation" to investigate cases of abuse "in a timely manner."
The latest accusation comes a year after a senior UN human rights official leaked a confidential report on the sexual abuse of homeless children by French troops stationed in CAR capital Bangui as part of Operation Sangaris. According to the report, French soldiers raped starving children as young as nine at the M'Poko refugee camp near the Bangui airport in exchange for food.
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Operation Sangaris was launched in December 2013 to restore law and order in the country after fighting broke out between Seleka rebels and mainly Christian anti-balaka militias. At the time, Le Drian said the mission's aims were "to establish minimum security, allowing a humanitarian intervention to start," and "to allow the African mission to intervene and implement democracy."
In July, two French soldiers serving in Operation Barkhane — an anti-terrorism military campaign across Africa's Sahel region — were suspended from the army over allegations they molested two young girls in Burkina Faso.
The soldiers allegedly abused the girls — who were three and five — during an outing at a pool in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. A mother of one of the girls later found a camera that belonged to one of the soldiers with photographic evidence of the abuse.
After being sent back to France for questioning, one of the soldiers was eventually released without being charged. The other soldier was charged with "sexual abuse against a child under the age of 15."
UN's peacekeeping MINUSCA force is also present in CAR, and its troops were also allegedly involved in a recent sex abuse scandal.
In June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the UN had received reports that MINUSCA peacekeepers abused "street children" in thecapital Bangui. The abuse allegedly began in 2014 and continued in 2015.
On August 11, Amnesty International revealed that UN peacekeepers raped a 12-year-old girl during a security operation in Bangui's PK5 neighborhood, the capital's Muslim enclave. At the time, an Amnesty researcher told VICE News that one of the soldiers found the girl during a raid on a house, took her to one of the remote corners of the compound, and beat and raped her behind a truck.
On August 12, Ban called for the MINUSCA chief — Senegalese General Babacar Gaye —to resign in response to the string of sexual abuse claims made against international peacekeepers in the country.
Less than a week after Gaye was booted out of MINUSCA, a spokeswoman for the peacekeeping force announced new allegations of rape, this time involving three women, one of whom was a minor. The abuse allegedly occurred on August 12 — just one day after the rape of the 12-year-old in Bangui.
Since its deployment in 2013, MINUSCA has been hit by 12 separate complaints of sexual abuse. The force currently has 12,000 soldiers stationed in the region.
"We simply have to find ways to prevent such odious acts being committed by any soldiers anywhere who are supposed to be protecting vulnerable populations," said Zeid. Any UN or foreign troops found guilty of abuse should be given "sentences that fit the crime," he added.
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Top photos shows a French soldier on patrol in Bossangoa, north of the Central African Republic's capital Bangui, on January 3, 2014.