Al Jazeera America – 2015-07-24 01:28:51
UN Official Slow To Investigate CAR
Child Sex Abuse Allegations Resigns
Al Jazeera America
(July 23, 2015) — The United Nations rights official who admitted not following up for months on allegations of child sexual abuse by French soldiers in Central African Republic has resigned. The UN confirmed on Wednesday that Flavia Pansieri has left the post of deputy high commissioner for human rights for health reasons. No more details were given.
The allegations by several children as young as 9 of trading oral sex and sodomy for food with French soldiers tasked with protecting civilians in the violence-torn country didn’t become public until late April, almost a year after UN staffers first heard the children’s stories.
Comments by Pansieri and other leaked documents led the UN secretary-general this summer to order an investigation into how the UN handled the case.
In a confidential statement for a separate internal investigation, obtained by The Associated Press, Pansieri said other issues including budget cuts had distracted her from the case for several months.
“I regret to say that in the context of those very hectic days, I failed to follow up on the CAR (Central African Republic) situation,” Pansieri said in the statement dated March 26.
She said she and her boss, High Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein, had assumed French authorities were handling the allegations, even as France pressed the UN for months for more information.
It appears that the only person who has been punished over the scandal is Anders Kompass, a UN rights staffer who first notified French authorities. Kompass was suspended for breach of protocol after he leaked internal reports to French authorities in August 2014. He has since been reinstated in this job.
The French soldiers, who were not UN peacekeepers, had been assigned to protect civilians in a chaotic camp for displaced people in Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, during violence between Christians and Muslims between December 2013 and June 2014.
In a brief note to staffers obtained by the AP, Zeid called Pansieri’s departure “unhappy news” and said that she had been on medical leave after a series of health concerns. He praised “the extraordinary dedication she has shown while fulfilling her very onerous workload.”
Central African Republic’s public prosecutor was instructed in May to initiate an investigation into the allegations, with the intention to sue the French soldiers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appointed Pansieri in March 2013.
French President Vows Tough Action on
Alleged Child Sex Abuse by Soldiers
Al Jazeera America
(April 30, 2015) — French President Francois Hollande on Thursday promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexually assaulting children in the Central African Republic.
French prosecutors and military authorities are investigating accusations of sexual abuse of children in 2013 and 2014 by French troops sent to protect civilians amid sectarian violence in the Central African Republic. The investigation has been underway since last year but was made public only Wednesday.
Hollande, speaking to reporters in western France, said any sanctions should correspond to the gravity of the crime and “set an example.”
“If this information is confirmed . . . the punishment will be proportionate to the deeds. If they are serious, the punishment will be harsh,” he told reporters.
French military officials distanced themselves from the accusations Thursday, saying they had no knowledge of any sexual abuse.
France intervened in the Central African Republic, a former French colony, some 18 months ago to stem violence between Christian militias and Seleka rebels who seized power. France started withdrawing some of its 2,000 troops this year, handing over to UN peacekeepers.
France’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the abuse allegedly took place at a center for displaced people at M’Poko airport in the capital, Bangui. It said it would take “all necessary measures” to establish the truth.
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed on Wednesday that the UN office for human rights in Bangui conducted an investigation in late spring of 2014.
CAR To Sue French Soldiers over
Alleged Sex-for-food Child Sex Abuse
Al Jazeera America
(May 7, 2015) — The Central African Republic (CAR) will take legal action against French soldiers accused of raping children in exchange for food at a refugee camp, the country’s justice minister has said.
“Legal action will be pursued . . . These are still very serious acts,” said Minister Aristide Sokambi on Wednesday, insisting his nation was not targeting France but individual soldiers.
Several children — the youngest just nine — allege that 14 soldiers dispatched to the impoverished nation as part of a peacekeeping force sexually abused some of them in exchange for food between December 2013 and June 2014.
“We regret the fact we were not brought into these investigations despite the cooperation agreements we have with France,” Sokambi added. “So I have instructed the public prosecutor to open a probe and seek the evidence already at the disposal of the French.”
French troops were deployed to the CAR in December 2013 to help African Union peacekeepers restore order after a bout of sectarian violence triggered by a coup earlier that year, when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country.
Hundreds of troops were stationed at Bangui’s M’Poko airport, which was transformed into a giant refugee camp. Nearly 900,000 people have been displaced and thousands were killed in the conflict. Hunger in the camp became so widespread that riots often broke out when food was distributed.
Prosecutors in Paris have opened an investigation into the reports of sexual abuse, with France’s defense ministry pledging to take “all the measures necessary for the truth to come out.”
The ministry has denied attempting to cover up a potentially devastating scandal and said it immediately launched a probe into the case, sending police investigators to the former French colony on August 1.
The allegations were contained in an internal United Nations report that was leaked to French authorities last summer by a UN official. United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq said that UN rights investigators had conducted a probe last year following “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops, and had suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
The report was given to The Guardian newspaper by the US-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World, which is calling for a commission of inquiry to be set up on sexual misconduct by peacekeepers.
Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, said the report detailed interviews with six children, aged eight to 15, who approached the French soldiers to ask for food.
“The children were saying that they were hungry and they thought that they could get some food from the soldiers. The answer was ‘if you do this, then I will give you food’,” Donovan told AFP news agency.
The UN employee accused of the leak, Swedish national Anders Kompass, is based in Geneva and turned the report over to French authorities because his bosses had failed to take action, The Guardian reported.
He has been suspended and faces dismissal for breaching protocol, the paper said. But UN officials said Kompass passed on the confidential document before it was presented to senior officials in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, suggesting that senior UN officials were not even aware of the report’s findings when it was leaked.
Peacekeepers Kill Civilians in CAR
Al Jazeera America
(March 30, 2014) — Peacekeeping soldiers from Chad opened fire on civilians in the strife-torn capital of the Central African Republic over the weekend, killing more than 30 people and sparking fears of reprisal attacks, officials and witnesses said.
Jean-Pierre Sadou, an official with the regional peacekeeping mission could not confirm the death tolls in Bangui provided by local officials but said the soldiers acted in a “legitimate defense” after an attack on their convoy.
The soldiers were returning from a mission in the country’s interior on Saturday when two of their vehicles were hit by grenades, said Sadou. In response, the soldiers forced their way past a roadblock erected by French soldiers in Bangui’s PK12 neighborhood and started shooting into the crowd, witnesses said.
More than 20 people were killed in the PK12 neighborhood alone, said Odette Dombolo, a commune mayor.
“We continue to collect the bodies,” Dombolo said Sunday. “There are more than 100 injured, and I mean seriously. We are overwhelmed.”
The same soldiers killed four people in the Gobongo neighborhood, local official Jean Claude Yamodo said, and witnesses said eight more people were killed near the airport.
Central African Republic, long one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, descended into chaos one year ago when an alliance of mostly Muslim rebel groups in the country’s north overthrew Francois Bozize, who had been the president for a decade. The rule of the Muslim rebel coalition known as Seleka was marked by atrocities, including tying together victims and throwing them off bridges into rivers to drown or be eaten by crocodiles.
Michel Djotodia, the rebel leader-turned-president, stepped down from power in January amid mounting international pressure. Since then, the country’s Muslim minority population has been targeted in often brutal retaliatory violence at the hands of a Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled for their lives in convoys to neighboring Chad.
All civilians in Bangui are threatened by daily attacks, said the UN children’s agency. Saturday’s violence in the city came just one day after suspected Muslim rebels launched a grenade attack on a funeral, killing at least nine people.
It’s unclear how many have been killed in the country since violence started in December. More than 1,000 people were killed in that month alone, but it’s unknown how many hundreds or thousands of casualties have occurred since then.
The UN estimates at least 1 million people have been displaced from their homes because of the violence.
The UN is in the midst of trying to convince member nations to send a larger peacekeeping force to the country, but even if the UN’s calls are heeded, it could take months for those troops to arrive.
France has sent about 2,000 troops and the African Union has sent 6,000 troops, but UN officials say many more are needed to help contain the violence.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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