The Human Rights Watch released a report on Thursday that alerted the public to rapes and sexual assaults of at least eight young women by United Nations peacekeepers deployed to Central African Republic.
This is the continuation of a string of sexual scandals that has undermined a lot of the United Nation’s crucial work in the very sensitive area. These string of acts seem to have begun in 2013 and early 2014, when troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea were alleged to have raped and sodomized six boys aged between 9 and 15. In January, The Washington Post reported cases of peacekeepers allegedly paying young girls of around 13 years of age as little as 50 cents in exchange for sex. Just last week, the United Nations had also announced the rape of two girls and the payment of two others for sex – all between the ages of 14 and 16, by European troops.
This most recent report contains accounts of at least eight young women, one of them a young teenager of 14 years of age, who says she was only released because she managed to scream. Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch says, “In a country where armed groups routinely prey on civilians, peacekeepers should be protectors, not predators”.
The United Nations mission in the Central African Republic acquiesced its receiving of the Human Rights Watch report findings and said that it was taking decisive steps to address them. The statement said the home countries of the accused peacekeepers had been informed and asked to begin investigations. The home countries include the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission also said it had called back 120 Republic of Congo soldiers who are now confined to barracks.
Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the United Nations secretary general’s special representative in the Central African Republic, said the new cases raised by Human Rights Watch meant that the mission “now has the sad record, among all peacekeeping operations, of dealing with the most cases of sexual misconduct.” The U.N officials now have to face both equally important issues of mediating a vicious civil war and policing their own ranks. The mission includes practically 11,000 peacekeepers and costs almost $600 million per year.
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A senior U.N official who remains unnamed, speaking sadly about the need to now conduct patrols on their own people, a situation which they have never been in before, pointed out that one of the problems was that the United Nation missions had been accepting troops from the Africa Union who are either unaware or unconcerned about U.N values. “You can’t just take African Union troops, put a blue helmet on them and assume their mind-set will change overnight,” he said in reference to the color of U.N peacekeepers helmets.
The Humans Right Watch report contains the various accounts of these rape cases as well as other considerations on the matter, but in all these it is important to note that the U.N is taking appropriate steps to combat this menace. so that it can continue doing the vital work that the world has come to know it for. When last year, a U.N report by a panel concluded that U.N staff in Bangui, the Central African Republic’s capital had “turned a blind eye to the criminal actions of individual troops.” The previous U.N. special representative there, retired Gen. Babacar Gaye of Senegal, was fired in August over their handling of the issues.