The French government confirmed this week that authorities in France are investigating claims that French peacekeepers operating in Central African Republic (CAR) sexually abused children. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to “show no mercy” if French peacekeepers in the CAR are found guilty of raping children in exchange for food and money.
On Wednesday, a statement released by the French defense ministry disclosed that the French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN’s high commission for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers.” The statement further disclosed that Paris prosecutors opened an investigation shortly afterwards, adding, “the defense ministry has taken and will take the necessary measures to allow the truth to be found… If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
Officials at the ministry have disclosed that the abuse was alleged by around ten children and reportedly occurred at a centre for internally displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014. Sources have reported that children as young as nine were involved and that some were abused in exchange for food and money. An internal UN report has suggested that troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated. The UN report suggests that at least 13 French soldiers, two soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and three Chadian troops were involved in the alleged abuse. According to a French judicial source, some of the French soldiers have been identified however none have been questioned on the matter. Officials from Chad and Equatorial Guinea have not yet commented on the allegations.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq has confirmed that its rights investigators conducted a probe last year after “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops had emerged, adding that it has suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
If these allegations are confirmed, this will likely have severe implications on the French mission deployed in the CAR, as well as on the Central African country, which continues to struggle to maintain security.