UN alarm at new child abuse claims by foreign troops in C. Africa
The UN rights chief expressed alarm Friday at new allegations of child abuse by foreign peacekeepers in troubled Central African Republic, including cases involving European Union troops.
Reports first surfaced early last year of sex abuse by troops serving with French and UN missions in the country.
The new cases linking EU and French troops detailed in a UN statement are said to date to 2014 but have been only discovered in the last weeks.
Of the several girls interviewed by UN officers, four "said their abusers were attached to contingents operating as part of the European Union operation," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, adding he was "extremely alarmed at continuing allegations."
Two girls said they were raped by EUFOR soldiers while two others said they were paid to have sexual relationships with other EUFOR soldiers, the UN statement said.
The four were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the alleged abuse.
"While the nationalities of some of the soldiers remain unclear, three of the girls said they believed their abusers were members of the Georgian EUFOR contingent," the statement said.
In Brussels, an EU source said the allegations involved "less than 10 soldiers" and were "totally unprecedented" for an EU mission.
Some 150 Georgian soldiers deployed between February 2014 to March 2015 with the EUFOR contingent, which at its peak comprised some 700 soldiers.
Reacting to the allegations, EUFOR said in a statement that "the EU takes these allegations very seriously".
But the "responsibility for any investigation, disciplinary or criminal action remains in the hands of the contributing States," EUFOR added.
Georgia's defence ministry called for all to "do everything possible to ensure that those individuals committing such crimes are held responsible."
"It makes no difference as to who they are, which country they represent and what language they speak," it said.
- Sex for cookies -
Zeid said UN human rights staff also interviewed two children allegedly abused in 2014 by soldiers from the French Sangaris force deployed to contain brutal sectarian violence.
The girl and boy interviewed by the UN in the cases linked to the French were aged seven and nine respectively at the time.
"The girl said she had performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies.
"Both she and the nine-year-old boy said that other children were abused in a similar fashion in repeated incidents involving several French soldiers," the statement said.
The two children said other children had been abused in the same way repeatedly by French soldiers.
The six cases of alleged abuse by foreign peacekeepers not part of a UN force took place at a sprawling camp for displaced people at M'Poko, near Bangui's airport.
"These are extremely serious accusations and it is crucial that these cases are thoroughly and urgently investigated," Zeid said.
"Far too many of these crimes continue to go unpunished, with the perpetrators enjoying full impunity. This simply encourages further violations," he added.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said sexual violence was rife in Central African Republic, with "just in 2014... there were more than 2,500 reported cases of sexual violence and rape".
And he underlined that "peacekeeping forces have played an important role" in the strife-torn country.
- 'Prevent further abuse' -
In January, the UN said it had opened a probe into sexual abuse allegations against soldiers from three countries in the UN's MINUSCA peacekeeping force.
The UN has not said which nationalities were involved nor how many troops were accused.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the 10,000-strong MINUSCA force last year over the mounting number of cases, but the allegations have continued to surface.
"As more and more cases emerge, implicating more and more national contingents, it is also clear that all foreign military forces, whether UN or non-UN, must employ much stronger and more effective actions to prevent further abuse and exploitation - and not just in CAR," Zeid said.
In France, five soldiers from the French Sangaris force were interrogated in December after allegations of forcing children to perform sexual acts in exchange for food, but none have been formally charged.
On Friday, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian ordered a fresh probe following the latest allegations.
The defence ministry said it had passed on the new information it had received from the United Nations to French investigators to allow them to establish whether they were different allegations from those already made.
"The United Nations and France are cooperating fully in order to shed all the light possible on these very serious allegations," a Le Drian aide said.
"If wrongdoing is proved, disciplinary measures will be taken against those responsible," the aide added.
© 2016 AFP