Lack of cooperation continues in Central African sex abuse case

This little girl lives in an IDP site in Carnot, Mambere Kadei, one of some 600 Muslims trapped in a Catholic Church compound since February 2014. (Credit: Vincent Tremeau, NRC)

Despite a meeting between leaders, a gulf between France and the Central African Republic over the child sex abuse scandal investigation remains. The French issued a statement following the meeting citing “perfect cooperation” between the two countries. However, the transitional president for the Central African Republic said France needs to do more.

“We insisted on being included in the process,” said transitional President Catherine Samba Panza following her meetings in Paris, to the media. “We have simply regretted not being informed much earlier that the investigation was taking place.”

The meeting comes on the heels of an Associated Press report revealing that the U.N.’s top human rights officials were aware of the alleged sexual attacks carried out by French troops in the Central African Republic, but did not follow up on the French investigation. Further, the reason the French were told about the allegations were because a U.N. staffer was not confident the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country would do anything.

Claims that 14 French soldiers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic came to the attention of the U.N. in May 2014. French authorities were notified in July. The initial investigation said the officers raped and abused children in the capital city of Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014.

The French say their investigation was delayed by the lack of response from the U.N. It took more than six months for some questions to be answered. They were finally provided on the same day The Guardian broke the story about the allegations and delayed investigation. New information sheds further light on the breakdown of communication between the U.N. and France.

“I regret to say that in the context of those very hectic days, I failed to follow up on the CAR situation,” said Deputy High commissioner Flavia Pansieri in the statement dated March 26, reported the Associated Press. “[B]oth the [high commissioner]and I knew that on [the Central African Republic]there was an ongoing process initiated by the French authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. I take full responsibility for not having given the matter the necessary attention.”

The allegations were leaked to the French by U.N. staffer Anders Kompass. An investigation into his act led to a short suspension in the wake of The Guardian story. He was reinstated a few weeks later, but he is still under investigation for the leak. The statement from Pansieri describes that Kompass acted as he did because he worried the U.N. would falter in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“He felt that no action on it was being taken by the mission in Bangui, nor that there was any intention to do so in the future … the names in the report were fake ones and that there was no risk therefore for witnesses,” she said.

As the investigation continues, so do meetings about the future of the Central African Republic. Samba Panza asked for the international community to provide financial support to hold elections by the end of the year. Some $17 million is needed for the elections, an important step in restoring stability after a coup in 2013 led to widespread fighting and displacement. Today there are still nearly 500,000 refugees and 1.4 million people in need of food assistance.

“I reaffirm my determination to organize democratic and credible elections … which will whatever the case take place before the end of 2015,” she said to reporters on Tuesday.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.