Video: Aid worker describes ‘tremendous’ amount of sexual abuse in CAR refugee camps
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French authorities are investigating a leaked UN report into the alleged sexual abuse of children by French soldiers in the Central African Republic. FRANCE 24 talks to aid worker Paula Donovan, who shared details of the report with the press.
The report chronicles numerous incidents of child sexual abuse by French troops in a camp for internally displaced people, including soldiers who forced boys, some as young as 9, to perform sex acts.
A statement from the French defence ministry on Wednesday said the French government was informed of the allegations at the end of July 2014 and Paris prosecutors launched an investigation into the claims that same month.
Anders Kompass, a senior UN aid worker, passed the internal report to French authorities after the UN failed to put a stop to the abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) itself.
Aid worker Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group Aids Free World, then passed the report to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Donovan told FRANCE 24 that a team of investigators and experts commissioned by the UN secretary general found that the incidents took place against a backdrop of “tremendous” abuse.
“Many officials interviewed by the team of experts told them that they knew there was a tremendous amount of sexual violence occurring against civilian populations that was never being reported,” Donovan said.
The alleged abuse concerns about 10 children and took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a centre for displaced people at an airport in the capital Bangui, France's defence ministry said. Some of the accused have been identified, a judicial source said.
French President François Hollande vowed Thursday to punish the perpetrators if found guilty.
"If some soldiers have behaved badly, I will show no mercy," Hollande told reporters.
'Breach of protocol'
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the UN Office of Human Rights in Bangui conducted an investigation into abuse claims in late spring of 2014 following serious allegations that French military personnel had sexually abused children before the arrival of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country in September.
The statement said the unedited version of the internal report had been leaked to French authorities in late July, even before it had been passed to senior UN officials, and that a Geneva-based UN official had subsequently been suspended for a “serious breach of protocol”.
Kompass was suspended from his duties as UN director of field operations last week and is facing dismissal over the leak, The Guardian reported.
A source who has knowledge of the investigation told FRANCE 24’s UN correspondent Sophie Pilgrim that the breach of protocol referred specifically to passing information to the government of the country accused in the affair, rather than to the disclosure itself.
To do so may have "compromised the investigation and rendered victims vulnerable to pressure from the accused state", the source said.
A source at the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations said that UN staff were left puzzled by Kompass's decision to pass the report on to the French in the "very final" stages of the investigation.
"The report was just about to be published," the source said on condition of anonymity.
At the time of the leak, Kompass was under investigation by the UN for having allegedly leaked classified information on the Western Sahara.
Donovan said she thinks the UN response was misdirected nevertheless.
“They are fixated on the person who exposed this. You’ll notice in the UN’s official statement today that there is no mention of the victims and no mention of the perpetrators,” she said.
The suspension of Kompass, a Swedish national, has already threatened to spark a diplomatic row. Earlier this month Sweden’s UN ambassador warned senior officials at the world body that “it would not be a good thing if the high commissioner for human rights forced” Kompass to resign.
Some 2,000 French troops have been dispatched to the impoverished country since it slipped into chaos after the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March 2013 coup. The Seleka officially disbanded after taking control but some former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting communities in the Christian-majority nation to form vigilante "anti-balaka" militias, many of which later sought revenge on the country's Muslim minority.
The inter-religious violence that followed prompted UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to warn that Muslims in the country were facing an “ethno-religious cleansing” in an interview with FRANCE 24 last year.
France began withdrawing some 300 of its 2,000 troops in the country this year, transferring duties to the UN's almost 12,000-strong MINUSCA mission.