The UN said Thursday its staff had learned that a French soldier had sexually abused a teenaged girl in the Central African Republic, who became pregnant and gave birth. “This is the latest in a series of appalling allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by foreign troops in CAR,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
UN workers in the country learned on August 30 that a girl was allegedly sexually abused around a year ago by soldier from the French military force, known as Sangaris, the United Nations rights office said. The girl, who is believed to have been in her mid to late teens at the time of the alleged abuse, gave birth to a child in April, it said, adding that the victim has lodged a paternity case with the local authorities.
French authorities had been informed of the allegations and that the UN was ready to help with any investigation, Zeid said. A source close to French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he “immediately ordered an investigation and will refer the case to Paris prosecutors once the details have been transferred to him.”
The ministry had been informed three days ago that the UN was planning to put out a statement about sexual abuse allegations, but had not received any details yet, the source said. “We’re waiting for the UN to give us a bit more,” ministry spokesman Pierre Bayle said, stressing the French would be “completely transparent” in their handling of the case.
France is already investigating allegations that 14 Sangaris soldiers sexually abused children in CAR in return for food, from December 2013 until June 2014. “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 is currently visiting the chronically restive, impoverished nation.
The case announced Thursday is only the latest in a string of alleged sexual abuse cases involving foreign troops. The French Sangaris soldiers were not deployed under UN command, but the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSCA force, which took over from an African Union mission nearly a year ago, has also been plagued by a series of allegations of rape and other misconduct by its own troops.
The UN mission in CAR has been hit by 13 cases of alleged sexual abuse by its peacekeepers, including nine that involve underage victims as young as 11, an official said last month. “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,” Zeid said.
He said governments who send peacekeeping troops have an obligation to investigate all such cases in a timely manner. “Any UN or other foreign military personnel found guilty must be given sentences that fit the crime,” he said.