UN: More child sex abuse cases by European troops in Africa

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says it has turned up six more cases of alleged sexual abuse against children by European troops in Central African Republic, including a 7-year-old girl who said she had to perform sexual acts on soldiers in exchange for water and cookies.

A U.N. team recently interviewed five girls and a boy who claimed their abusers were part of French and European Union military operations in the troubled African country, the office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said.

The sexual abuse allegedly took place in 2014 in or near a camp for displaced people near M’Poko airport in CAR’s capital, Bangui, but only came to light in recent weeks, the latest in a string of similar allegations.

France, Central African Republic’s former colonial ruler, deployed several thousand troops to the country in late 2013 as violence between Christians and Muslims sent thousands fleeing from their homes. An African Union mission that began in April 2014 was taken over by a U.N. peacekeeping force five months later, while the EU force ended an 11-month mission in March last year.

“These are extremely serious accusations and it is crucial that these cases are thoroughly and urgently investigated,” Zeid said in a statement. “We will continue to closely follow up on these cases, and any others which emerge, as the UN team on the ground continues its investigations.”

The U.N. can report the allegations but countries themselves are responsible for prosecuting their troops over such crimes.

The U.N. rights office said three of the girls said they believed their abusers were members of a Georgian contingent within a European Union force, and another girl was allegedly abused by a soldier from another European country that was not named because “additional corroboration is needed” in that case.

U.N. staffers interviewed a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy who said they had been abused by troops in the French “Sangaris” operation. The girl said she had performed “oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and a sachet of cookies,” the statement from Zeid’s office said.

A spokesman for Zeid’s office said the 7-year-old was the youngest alleged victim so far in any of the CAR cases. The two children said other children were abused in a similar fashion in repeated incidents involving several French soldiers, according to the statement.

The U.N. is under pressure to act more quickly after an independent panel last month described the world body’s “gross institutional failure” in handling similar allegations in CAR against French and other peacekeepers. The report said the months-long delay in addressing children’s accounts of abuse had led to even more reported assaults.

There was no immediate comment from French authorities.

The EU’s foreign affairs service said the European Union was informed of the allegations on Jan. 19 and immediately offered assistance to the U.N. investigators.

“The EU takes these allegations very seriously. The EU is committed to human rights, protection of victims of sexual abuse and to fighting against impunity,” said the statement.

Georgia’s Defense Ministry said it received the allegations “with great concern” and expressed its belief that “each and every one of us, at both national and international levels, must do everything possible to ensure that those individuals committing such crimes are held responsible.”

“It is our goal to investigate this matter in great detail and in case such grave crimes are proven, perpetrators of such crimes will be brought to justice,” it said.

The U.N. human rights office also said the recent interviews turned up “a number of cases involving U.N. peacekeepers,” but it gave no details. It said U.N. peacekeeping officials were discussing the new cases with the countries involved.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Zeid’s office, estimated that troops from “something like ten” foreign military contingents in CAR have now been embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations. He said it was difficult to estimate how many individual soldiers might have been involved.

“What is abundantly clear in the CAR is that it’s been rampant,” Colville told reporters at a U.N. briefing Friday in Geneva. “What this does show is this is a problem with armies, with the military forces, and for whatever reason not enough is being done to stop this happening — the message doesn’t seem to have got through.”

He said he was unaware of any convictions so far by judicial authorities in any of the cases that have been brought to light.

___

Raf Casert in Brussels and Cara Anna in New York contributed.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

Observers from the U.S. Department of Justice examine the accessibility of a polling place in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley during the Aug. 16, 2022, primary election. The Justice Department concluded that the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to properly accommodate voters with disabilities. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Disabled Alaskans encountered barriers in recent elections, Justice Department investigation finds

Alaska failed to accommodate people with disabilities who were trying to cast… Continue reading

Independent Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign rally at Legends Event Center on Dec. 20, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)
Want to run for President in Alaska? You’ll need a few thousand friends.

On Friday, supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. turned in more than… Continue reading

A Juneau Police Department officer talks on a radio in a patrol car. Officials said JPD’s communications system, which had an end-of-life date in 2014, needs to be replaced to provide improvements such as full radio coverage within the city and borough limits. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Voters may be asked to OK $22.75M in bonds to upgrade emergency communications, wastewater treatment

Juneau Assembly will consider two proposed measures, take public comments, at July 1 meeting.

Traffic at the Fred Meyer intersection, formally known as Egan and Yandukin drives, in November 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Upgrades at Fred Meyer intersection overnight Tuesday and Wednesday to affect traffic

One lane on Egan in each direction open 7-9 p.m.; northbound traffic diverted 9 p.m.-5 a.m.

A view of Angoon from a floatplane on Friday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Thayer Creek Hydro project fulfills ‘dream of the elders’

Angoon hydropower groundbreaking comes after four decades of effort, seeks to stabilize future costs

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, June 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel And Convention Center on Feb. 24 in National Harbor, Maryland. Attendees descended upon the hotel outside of Washington, D.C., to participate in the four-day annual conference and hear from conservative speakers from around the world who range from journalists, U.S. lawmakers, international leaders and businessmen. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Trump endorses Dahlstrom for Alaska’s U.S. House seat, criticizes Peltola and Begich

Endorsement could shake up the race, because local Republicans have tended to favor Begich so far.

Customers gather in the seating area of an expanded food court area on Franklin Street on Friday. Reconstruction work that began last fall was recently completed for the facility scheduled to be open between May and September. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Franklin Street facelift: Sites of former Elks Lodge, Glory Hall debut new eateries, housing

Expanded food court opens at former lodge site; donut shop and low-cost apartments replace shelter.

Most Read