The United Nations human rights commissioner on Thursday described new allegations of sexual abuse against U.N. and French soldiers as “sickening,” adding that the matter will be fully investigated.
“The U.N. investigation into these sickening allegations, which suggest sexual abuse and exploitation of a large number of women and girls, must leave no stone unturned,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. “We are taking these allegations - some of which are particularly odious - extremely seriously. It is vital that the victims are protected and receive all necessary care.”
AIDS-Free World, a U.S.-based non-profit group that tracks peacekeeper sex abuse cases, said three girls told a U.N. human rights official that a French military commander had them, along with a fourth girl, stripped and forced to have sex with a dog while inside a military camp.
According to the group, the girls said that after they had sex with the dog, they were each given about $9. The fourth girl later died of an unknown disease.
In total, 108 alleged victims have been interviewed by U.N. investigators, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, although he said the exact number and nature of the allegations are still being determined. The majority, he said, are minors.
Dujarric said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked to the core” when he heard about the latest allegations.
The French permanent representative to the U.N., François Delattre, called the allegations, "sickening and odious." He said if the allegations are proven, "exemplary disciplinary action will be imposed, in addition to the criminal response."
Most of the allegations involve U.N. contingents from Burundi and Gabon that were in the Kemo region of the Central African Republic between 2013 and 2015, along with French troops stationed in the same area. A U.N. investigative team was sent to gather information about the alleged sexual abuse last week, and Zeid said the U.N. formally notified all three countries of the allegations against their soldiers.
“The states to whom these troops belong must do more to stop the abuse happening, to punish those committing these acts with appropriate sentences, and to prevent further violations,” Zeid said. “Otherwise this awful cycle of abuse will never end.”
The U.N. said it recorded 25 sexual abuse allegations in the C.A.R. In the 15 other current U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, six allegations were recorded during the same 2-year time period.
Zeid called for harsh punishment for those soldiers found guilty of sexually abusing the girls, and called on the governments of the accused soldiers to see that it is carried out.
On Wednesday, France’s defense minister said the country will cease military operations in C.A.R. sometime this year, but did not specify an exact date. Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said everything is not resolved in C.A.R., but said France has achieved its goal of stabilizing the country, which has been consumed by ethnic violence.
The French pullout will coincide with a buildup of forces from the EU and U.N. About 300 French soldiers will stay in the country and work as part of the 12,000 member coalition force.