Child sex abuse claims shake UN as revelations continue

The boys said they approached the French soldiers because they were hungry. Some were so young they didn't quite understand the acts the soldiers demanded in return.

United Nations: The boys said they approached the French soldiers because they were hungry. Some were so young they didn't quite understand the acts the soldiers demanded in return.

One boy, 8 or 9 years old, said he did it several times to the same soldier, "until one day an older kid saw him and told him what he was doing was bad." Another boy, 9, said he thought the soldiers had been urinating.

UN investigators heard such stories of sexual abuse from several boys in May and June 2014 in Central African Republic, where French soldiers were protecting a sprawling displaced persons camp in the conflict-torn capital, Bangui.

One year later, revelations about how the UN handled the boys' accounts have horrified people both inside and outside the world body.

Statements marked "strictly confidential" have shown that its top human rights officials failed to follow up for several months on the allegations their own office had collected.

Yesterday, the high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, said his office was sending a team to Central African Republic to look into what the statement called "possible further measures to address human rights violations," including sexual violence.

The office also will ask "concerned states" what they have done to investigate them and prosecute anyone.

No arrests have been announced, and it's not clear where the accused soldiers, who were supporting a UN peacekeeping force, are now. The UN seems unable to say when the abuses stopped, or how long it continued to investigate.

On Friday, more documents were released by a non-governmental organisation run by two former UN staffers that's calling for an independent investigation into the case.

The documents show UN officials scrambling not so much to help a French inquiry into the allegations but to investigate the human rights staffer who told French authorities in the first place.

A separate report with the children's allegations, obtained by The Associated Press, says the first account was heard May 19 by a human rights staffer and a UNICEF child protection officer. The interviews continued through June 24.

A Geneva-based human rights staffer shared the report with French authorities in July.

The boys' accounts are simple and stark. An 11-year-old said he had gone "looking for empty wrappings to play with" when a French soldier first called him over, later giving the boy food and a little money in exchange for oral sex.

Another boy, 9, "had been severely beaten by his mother when he told her what had happened."

When approached by French authorities in Bangui, UNICEF referred them to the UN's legal office in New York. UNICEF also gave the UN's special representative for children and armed conflict information about the cases on July 16, UNICEF spokeswoman Najwa Mekki, said in an email yesterday.
 

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