UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations on Friday said “it is possible, it’s horribly possible” that more allegations of sexual abuse of children by French and other soldiers in Central African Republic could come to light as investigations continue.
A U.N. human rights spokesman reminded reporters in Geneva that conditions where the alleged abuse occurred last year were chaotic, with thousands of displaced people taking refuge at the capital’s airport and under protection of French and other troops.
Rupert Colville said U.N. officials now have to see what French authorities will come up with as their investigation continues. He called the allegations “abhorrent” and “utterly odious.”
“Longer term, only the French can do this investigation … fully,” he said.
Residents of the camp for displaced persons have told The Associated Press that French soldiers tasked with protecting civilians during months of vicious sectarian violence in the country had sexually abused boys as young as 9 years old.
France’s investigations follow an initial U.N. investigation into the allegations a year ago. All of the probes came to light Wednesday when a report in the Guardian newspaper pushed officials to publicly acknowledge the allegations.
The accusations were made before a U.N. peacekeeping force arrived in the country in September.
The U.N. has said one of its human rights workers leaked information about the U.N. investigation to French authorities last year. Swede Anders Kompass has been suspended and is under internal investigation. The U.N. says the leak was a breach of protocol, with the leak including names of victims and witnesses.
Paula Donovan, whose group AIDS-Free World has been looking into abuse by peacekeeping personnel, has said children also accused soldiers from Chad and Equatorial Guinea.
The U.N. on Friday said it didn’t know whether the accusations against soldiers from Chad and Equatorial Guinea were being pursued but that the French investigation might cover them.
The deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told reporters in New York that troops from those countries did not join the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Chad withdrew before the U.N. mission came, and the inclusion of Equatorial Guinea troops was not approved by U.N. peacekeeping officials, Haq said.
The U.N. Security Council has called on the African Union and troop-contributing countries to investigate reported human rights abuses by forces present in Central African Republic before the U.N. mission arrived, he said.
U.N. officials in Geneva also said that after hearing of the allegations, the U.N. worked with partners to ensure that the children received medical and “psychosocial” care, and that social workers followed up regularly with the children for weeks.
The children are safe now, Christophe Boulierac of UNICEF told reporters.
France’s president has promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty. French military officials have refused to say whether the soldiers have been identified or whether any were still serving in Central African Republic.
“This is incredibly important, not just as a matter of accountability, but also as deterrence,” the U.N. human rights office said Friday. “There have been far too many incidents of peacekeeping troops engaged in such acts, whether within U.N. peacekeeping forces, or – as in this case – forces that are operating independently.”
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