UN says peacekeeper states 'must tackle troop sex abuse claims'

UN Deputy Secretary General Herve Ladsous urged the world to stand by the Central African Republic at a donors' conference to be held in Brussels in November 2016 (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo) (AFP/File)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - The UN's head of global peacekeeping operations wants to force contributing nations to act on allegations of sexual abuse levelled against their troops, which top officials have denounced as "sickening".

Speaking to AFP on a visit to Bangui, the UN's under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations Herve Ladsous denounced the allegations of abuse involving personnel in the UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic (MINUSCA), as "abominable".

His words came as MINUSCA said it was investigating "extremely troubling" new allegations of abuse involving both UN and non-UN personnel -- including charges of bestiality involving children and a dog at the instigation of French Sangaris forces.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein denounced the allegations as "sickening".

The force, which counts about 12,600 foreign police and soldiers, as well as more than 500 foreign civilians, was set up by a UN Security Council resolution in April 2014 as the country reeled from a wave of sectarian bloodshed. It began operating in September of that year.

Q: About 40 cases of sexual abuse have been reported in the 18 months since MINUSCA began operating. What is your response?

"This is abominable, pitiful, unacceptable. We must force the contributing states to act against this phenomenon, because the real key is there, in how they recruit the Blue Helmets (an alternative term for UN peacekeepers)

"As far as I'm concerned, I am pushing for two ideas: firstly, contributor countries must agree to hold court martials on the spot, where their troops are serving.

"Secondly, when Blue Helmets are recruited, DNA samples should be taken -- on a confidential basis, of course -- so that if there are accusations of rape, of fatherhood, it will be easier to reconstruct the event. This will have a deterrent effect. And then we must take care of the victims, and not abandon them. Let's not forget that the protection of civilians is the heart of our mandate."

Q: How do you assess the situation today now that President Faustin Archange Touadera has taken office?

"Between the situation three years ago and today, there's no comparison. Overall, security has generally been restored, even if that's not the case everywhere. The president was elected in uncontested conditions and victory recognised by his rival. That's not so common in Africa.

"The page has been turned on transitional rule. What's needed now is for parliamentary elections to take place smoothly, for a government to be named and set up swiftly on the broadest and most representative basis possible, and for everybody -- the sub-region, the African Union, the UN and international financial institutions -- to agree on a working programme."

Q: What are the priorities?

"We have to disarm the former fighters, make progress towards national reconciliation, fight against impunity and establish a special criminal tribunal to try all the Central African criminals. There is a need for justice. With regard to the DDR programme (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration), we will need to work pretty precisely to identify people who have things to answer for, who have blood on their hands, and others whom we can integrate into the armed forces.

"We also need to help the country take on a structure, re-create its administration so that the presence of the state can be felt everywhere. At present, no taxes are collected. What happens to valuable tree trunks which are clandestinely cut down, to the diamonds? What has become of the resources in Central Africa? There's a whole series of resources that are evading the state and the fiscal authorities."