By Theodore Ezike
2016 saw renewed focus on the role of United Nations peacekeepers and their conduct in the countries that they serve. The United States-based NGO AIDS-Free World, which has operations in the Central African Republic (CAR), released a report in 2013 highlighting cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by European peacekeepers. The organization has continued to release statistics of reported abuse annually.
Among the accused were French soldiers stationed in CAR, according to Al Jazeera. The most recent report, published in January 2016, condemned the U.N. for not taking action against rampant sexual abuse, calling the U.N.’s handling of the sexual abuse cases “severely flawed.”
In 2014, the involvement of French troops in the scandal was made public when Anders Kompass, a Swedish officer from the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, published a report implicating the soldiers. According to the Guardian, when Kompass delivered his report to French officials, a criminal investigation was commenced. He gave his report to French prosecutors because he believed that there were no actions being taken by the U.N. For the next two years, French prosecutors built a case against the soldiers.
After completing an initial investigation pertaining to cases that took place in a camp for displaced people near M’Poko airport in Bangui, six French soldiers were identified as possible abusers. According to the Guardian, three French judges visited the sites of the alleged abuses and interviewed children. Their ages ranged from nine to thirteen.
On January 6, however, the judges decided against bringing charges against the six peacekeepers, citing a lack of concrete evidence. Agnes Thibault-Leroux, a spokesperson for the court, stated that there was difficulty identifying people. She also said that it was challenging to build a case on the testimony of children, according to the Associated Press.
Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for Epcat, an NGO focused on combatting the sexual exploitation of children, lamented the court decision but was not surprised, telling the New York Times that the group would bring a civil case seeking compensation for the wrongdoing committed by the peacekeepers. Eléonore Chiossone, a technical expert at Epcat, said the group was also contemplating gathering more evidence to present to the court. She acknowledged, however, that extracting more testimonies from children would be challenging.
The U.N. for its part will be closely following the developments in France. Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the U.N., told the AP that “obviously we’ll keep an eye on this…But as we’ve said, it is the responsibility of member states to fully investigate and hopefully prosecute crimes. The fight against impunity for these horrendous actions has to be a partnership between the U.N. and member states.”
Anders Kompass, the initial whistleblower, is unconvinced of the U.N.’s commitment to addressing the issue. Mr. Kompass resigned from his post as the director of field operations at the U.N. human rights office in Geneva.
Speaking with IRIN, he attributed his resignation to “the complete impunity for those who have been found to have, in various degrees, abused their authority, together with the unwillingness of the hierarchy to express any regrets for the way they acted towards me.” He had previously been reprimanded for releasing his initial reports.