The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday he is "extremely alarmed' about the allegations that continue to surface in the Central African Republic about the sexual exploitation and abuse of minors by members of foreign military forces.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement most of the alleged crimes took place in 2014, "but only came to light in recent weeks. "
A joint U.N. team in the CAR recently interviewed four girls who said they had been sexually assaulted and exploited by foreign soldiers.
Two said they were raped by soldiers with the European Union operation, or EUFOR, while two other girls said they were paid to have sex with other EUFOR soldiers. The nationalities of the soldiers were not clear, but three of the four girls believed their abusers were members of the Georgian EUFOR contingent.
At the time of the abuse, the girls were between the ages of 14 and 16.
The U.N. human rights staff also interviewed a young girl and a young boy abused in 2014 when the girl was seven and the boy was nine. The girl said she performed oral sex on French soldiers in exchange for a bottle of water and some cookies. The two children told the U.N. staff other children were similarly abused by French soldiers.
All six cases involved non-U.N. foreign military forces, the statement said.
High Commissioner Zeid said he has notified the European, Georgian and French authorities about the cases. He said he was "heartened" by their prompt responses and that they have already launched investigations.
Sexual abuse allegations have been a recurring problem for the U.N. mission in CAR. Earlier this month, allegations of sexual abuse of minors by U.N. peacekeepers emerged. At that time, those allegations brought the number of sexual abuse cases involving peacekeepers and international troops in CAR to 26.
Last year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon fired the head of the 12,000 Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) force over the mounting number of cases.
An independent panel last month described the U.N.'s delayed reaction to investigating and prosecuting its peacekeepers as a "gross institutional failure."
While the allegations announced by the High Commissioner for Human Rights involve troops that were not operating under U.N. auspices, a senior U.N. official spoke Friday of five cases in CAR that are currently under investigation involving their peacekeepers.
The allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation were all perpetrated against minors, said Anthony Banbury, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support.
The accused troops and police come from Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco, Niger and Senegal.
Two of the cases involve sex with minors, possibly in exchange for money. One case, involving a Moroccan soldier, is an alleged sexual assault. In all, there were six alleged victims.
The alleged incidents date back as far as January 2014, but were only uncovered recently by a U.N. team investigating sexual abuse and exploitation in the CAR.
“The United Nations is doing everything we possibly can to assist the victims, to bring accountability and justice for them, and hopefully to prevent these cases – any such cases – from recurring,” a very emotional Banbury told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.
He said of the five countries involved, DRC, Niger and Senegal had not responded to U.N. requests for cooperation in investigating the accusations, so the U.N. is conducting its own investigations.
It is up to the peacekeeper’s country to investigate and prosecute allegations of misconduct. The United Nations can only send accused troops home.
The United Nations has a stated policy of “zero tolerance” regarding sexual abuse in its peacekeeping missions, but it has had repeated problems with violations, especially in the Central African Republic, where many of the cases are reported.
The United Nations oversees more than 100,000 peacekeepers in 16 missions around the world. In 2014, there were 51 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation. Banbury said numbers are still being confirmed for last year, but that it would likely be 69 cases - the first increase since 2010.
“Twenty-two of those cases are from MINUSCA,” he said, using the acronym for the CAR mission.
The U.N. has established a trust fund to help assist and compensate victims of sexual abuse.
Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations