UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken strong action in response to the latest sexual abuse allegations against U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
He asked for and accepted the resignation of his top envoy in the C.A.R., Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, a long-time Senegalese diplomat and military officer.
At a hastily called news conference Wednesday, the U.N. chief said although General Gaye had served tirelessly at the head of the U.N. Mission, he wanted to send a strong message. “I want to be clear that this problem goes far beyond one mission or one conflict or one person. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response,” Ban said.
It is extremely rare for a senior U.N. official to be asked to resign.
Ban said he could not articulate how “anguished, angered and ashamed” he is by repeated reports of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers.
“When the United Nations deploys peacekeepers, we do so to protect the world’s most vulnerable people in the world’s most desperate places,” he said. “I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear."
The U.N. chief urged victims to come forward and report abuse saying, “You should not feel shame. Shame belongs to the perpetrators.”
The U.N. deployed its mission, known by its acronym MINUSCA, in September last year to quell escalating inter-communal violence. It was preceded by an African Union led international support mission and a French-backed peacekeeping force.
There have been several allegations of sexual abuse of children, first against the French and international forces and later against U.N. peacekeepers. In June, the U.N. chief appointed an independent panel to look into the accusations and the U.N. response. Its report is due in the coming weeks.
Amnesty International brought the latest allegations to light on Tuesday, saying a 12-year-old girl was raped by a peacekeeper during an operation last week in the capital, Bangui. U.N. police from Rwanda and Cameroon were operating in the area where the attack allegedly took place.
Ban said he has requested the Security Council convene a special session on Thursday to discuss sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. He also will hold a video conference on the same day with his envoys, force commanders and police commissioners in all peacekeeping missions to underscore their responsibility.
He said U.N. leaders must report allegations immediately, investigate thoroughly and act decisively, “Failure to do so will have clear consequences.”
He will also be sending the U.N.’s Inspector General to the C.A.R. to assess the situation and see what else can be done both in dealing with abuse and misconduct and preventing it.
Ban noted U.N. member states and the countries who contribute troops to peacekeeping have the ultimate responsibility to hold their personnel accountable if they commit crimes. He said they must also prevent such acts by properly educating and training their troops before deploying them.
The U.N. has no authority over the prosecution of troops deployed in its missions. It can only repatriate accused perpetrators with the expectation that their home country will prosecute them.