Roundup: Independent report finds institutional failure by UN to act on alleged child sexual abuses in CAR

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The persistence of serious crimes against vulnerable populations put at risk the sustainability of peacekeeping missions, warned a new report Thursday on child sexual abuse cases by French troop in the Central Africa Republic (CAR).

"The persistence of serious crimes against vulnerable local populations perpetrated by some of the very individuals charged with protecting them puts at risk the sustainability of peacekeeping missions in the longer term," said the 100-plus page report by an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the CAR, in an executive summary.

The involved French troops are under authority of the UN Security Council, but not under UN command.

"The institutional failure to respond immediately and effectively to incidents of sexual violence is not only damaging to its victims, but also allows the actions of a few predatory individuals to taint the important and valuable work of peacekeepers as a whole, many of whom risk their lives to bring peace and stability to populations at risk," the report said.

"Indeed, the fact that the problem persists despite several expert reports commissioned by the UN over the last 10 years only serves to exacerbate the perception that the UN is more concerned with rhetoric than action," the report said.

In 2014 "six young boys" were interviewed by a human rights officer working for the UN mission in the CAR and a representative of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) who said they were either abused by international peacekeepers or witnessed abuse of other children, it said.

"In most cases the alleged perpetrators were from the French Sangaris Forces" who allegedly gave the children small amounts of food or cash, the report said. "All of the incidents occurred between December 2013 and June 2014, near the M'Poko Internally Displaced Persons camp in Bangui," CAR. Some of the children provided detailed identifications.

The report said children indicated there were not just a few incidents but many since children were led into areas of the camp past other soldiers to areas off-limits to civilians.

The French troops were in the CAR, a former French colony, to help quell a cycle of sectarian violence and participated in an African Union-led, UN-approved mission.

Marie Deschamps, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, chaired the panel issuing the independent report on the abuses, said the exact number of victims could not be determined by members of the inquiry team.

"We heard all kinds of numbers and we read about all kinds of numbers," she said at news conference on the report. "At a certain point the numbers don't match, we hear about 6, 7, 11, 15 but in other parts we hear about thousands. So, this is a real problem. I don't think that five or 10 is the real number. This is not the reality that we have observed. So that's why I don't want to embark on numbers."

Asked if the UN doesn't address the problem in the CAR could such abuse occur with impunity elsewhere peacekeepers operate, she said, "What we are proposing is that the UN review the system and the system that is operating in all areas where the UN is operating.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, underlining the seriousness of the allegations in the report, personally issued a statement, rather than issuing as usual one attributed to his spokesman.

"The report depicts a United Nations that failed to respond meaningfully when faced with information about reprehensible crimes against vulnerable children," Ban said. "I express my profound regret that these children were betrayed by the very people sent to protect them."

"Though the soldiers who committed the abuses were not under United Nations command, the report shows that the United Nations, which uncovered the abuse, did not subsequently handle the case with the speed, care or sensitivity required," the secretary-general said. "The report has found that three United Nations officials abused their authority. Given the gravity of these findings, I will act quickly to determine what action might be necessary."

"To uphold the fundamental principle of accountability, and in the light of the history of allegations of sexual abuse by troops in the CAR, including the current allegations, I had previously asked one of them -- my Special Representative for the Central African Republic (Babacar Gaye) -- to resign," Ban said. "The report also found that, while there were some shortcomings in the performance of several other UN officials and offices, they had not abused their authority."

"I believe that missteps by these individuals were largely a product of flawed systems," he said. "I intend to study these cases further to ensure that all individuals and offices heed the lessons of this review."

Deschamps was asked about UNICEF caring for the very young victims.

"We found that their reaction was problematic," she said. "They left it to a local partner without follow-up."

In a statement, UNICEF said, "We, of course, deeply regret those failures, including in not adequately following up on the children's wellbeing."

"Already we have instituted a new system of reporting within UNICEF to improve internal oversight of our response to reports of abuse," it said. "We are also instituting a new process to require more formal and systematic reporting by implementing partners on the support they are providing to child sexual abuse victims -- with periodic follow up by UNICEF regarding that support." Endit

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