Friday 20 October 2017

UN to tackle claim it mishandles C. Africa rape cases

UN to tackle claim it mishandles C. Africa rape cases
(AFP 09/17/17)

The UN's peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said Friday that it would probe allegations that investigations into sexual abuse by UN soldiers had been disastrously mishandled.

MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro, reached by phone in the Central African capital of Bangui, said the force would "examine the allegations."

A US-based NGO, Code Blue Campaign, on Wednesday said a confidential source had given it 14 internal case files regarding allegations of sexual offences against CAR civilians by UN troops.

Complaints were made against UN soldiers from nine countries -- Pakistan, Zambia, Republic of Congo, Burundi, Morocco, Egypt, Cameroon, Gabon and Niger.

But a "sham process" meant these complaints were never probed in depth, it said.

In eight of the cases, alleged victims were not questioned to provide evidence; potentially corroborating witnesses were not sought out for interviews; and investigators showed "overwhelming bias" against those who complained, its report said.

"In at least four cases, fact-finders gave weight to unsubstantiated assertions suggesting that the accused peacekeepers were the true victims in the incidents," it said.

None of the accused has been sentenced, it added.

In one case, a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by a Moroccan UN soldier at Obo, in the east of the country, was questioned for 13 days by nine men, both UN staff and local authorities, according to the report.

The investigators concluded that her allegation was false and intended to discredit MINUSCA and gain compensation, it said.

"Of the 14 fact-finding inquiries, 10 were conducted solely by UN personnel," Code Blue noted.

"Three were conducted jointly by the UN and representatives from the accused soldiers’ battalions. One was conducted by national investigation officers (NIOs) from the home country of the accused soldiers."

It said: "Only four of the 14 cases we examined have been revealed publicly. How many more cases loom in the shadows? How many more victims?"

MINUSCA has faced a host of sexual abuse claims since its force of some 12,000 men arrived in the CAR early in 2014 to help end conflict and bring stability to the deeply poor, landlocked country.

When Antonio Guterres became UN chief in January, he promised to crack down firmly on such crimes.

The Republic of Congo has already pulled its contingent out of the CAR in the wake of prior allegations of rape.

MINUSCA on Friday insisted it "had taken strict measures to combat this problem."

"Sexual exploitation and cases of sexual abuse have severely affected the credibility and the reputation of the mission in the past," it admitted.

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