Like a broken record that just won’t stop repeating the same phrase, the United Nations again revealed that peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were responsible for sexual abuse. This time, the number of victims totals 108 people – mostly children. Authorities in France, Gabon and Burundi, were notified of the complicity of their troops in the sexual assaults.
The number of cases of rape and sexual exploitation at the hands of foreign units in the Central African Republic over the last 18 months is becoming hard to count. The U.N. again expressed dismay about the situation that it keeps saying it will work on but is failing to prevent.
“The interventions of the international community helped save the CAR from an unspeakable fate,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement. “Yet we must face the fact that a number of troops who were sent to protect people instead acted with hearts of darkness.”
The comments oddly evoke the title of the Joseph Conrad novel about a voyage up the Congo River. Ban goes on to use strong language to both denounce the “despicable, depraved and deeply disturbing allegations” and describe how the U.N. will continue to “confront” the “scourge.” Yet it rings hollow when the abuses continue.
Some 20 peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo went on trial this week for committing rape and other crimes while in the Central African Republic. The entire unit of 800 peacekeepers from the Congo returned home in February in the wake of abuse allegations. Promises to investigate and prosecute perpetrators by the country appear to be realized with the current trial.
Punishment for perpetrators and transparency from the U.N. have both improved ever since it was leaked last year that French soldiers committed sexual abuses and rape. But that is not adding up to prevention. The latest allegations include reports that a military commander from France forced three girls to have sex with a dog. And there are peacekeepers from Morocco accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.
“The exact number and nature of these extremely troubling allegations are still being determined,” said the U.N. in a statement. “Alleged victims are being interviewed and will be provided with assistance and psycho-social and medical support.”
In the first two months of this year, some 25 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were reported. Sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeeping units is not unique to the Central African Republic. Another six allegations were made in the other 15 missions over the same period and a total of 69 allegations were made last year for all units.
The problem is deep and does not seem to be getting better. For years, the body has said that it will do what it can to prevent such abuses and hold perpetrators accountable. The investigation into the latest allegations will determine the guilt of the parties involved, but does not necessarily get at the core problem.