The U.N. revealed that it is investigating reports that members of its peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic sexually abused young girls. It marks the third revelation that foreign forces operating in the country committed acts from rape to physical abuse.
Few details about the allegations were provided, but the U.N. disclosed that four girls received medical care as the result of the incidents. UNICEF is charged with caring for the girls both emotionally and physically, saying it provided them with clothes, shoes and hygiene kits.
“The mission continues to investigate each and every allegation of misconduct,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, at a press briefing on Tuesday. “A fact-finding mission is currently under way in this regard. The national authorities have been informed in Bangui and the troop-contributing countries in question have been informed officially in New York.”
The countries responsible for the accused peacekeepers have been asked to take the necessary steps to hold accountable any individuals guilty of attacking the girls. It is the policy of the U.N. not to name the countries of origin for peacekeepers accused of sexual crimes, but the Associated Press reports that non-disclosure policy will change in the coming year.
The U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Central African Republic was commissioned in April 2014 to help reduce violence and instability in the country following the ouster of its president. More than 10,000 members, mostly peacekeepers, of the mission are currently in the country.
In addition to the investigation, the U.N. mission in CAR says it is taking measures to prevent future incidents of sexual abuse at the hands of its peacekeepers. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said a joint brigade with the police will patrol camps for internally displaced persons and work to catch and prevent perpetrators. The peacekeepers should be a force for good, he argued.
“The blue beret or the blue helmet you wear represents hope for the vulnerable population of the CAR,” said Onanga-Anyanga. “There is no place in U.N. peacekeeping for those who betray the trust of the people we are here to help.”
The immediate announcement differs greatly from the delayed response to alleged abuses carried out by French and African troops between late 2013 and mid 2014. Despite documented internal reports, the information did not become public until a U.N. staffer blew the whistle on the body in April 2015 and it was reported by the Guardian.
Peacekeeping missions across the world have been accused of sexual abuse for more than a decade. Critics say that the U.N. has not done nearly enough to both prevent attacks and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable by their home countries. Better transparency in recent incidents and the supposed move to name the origin countries of the accused may help move Ban’s zero-tolerance policy from mere rhetoric to action.
“The entire U.N. family is collaborating in addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the broader context of upholding the highest standard of conduct and discipline within the organization,” said Dujarric.