U.N. defends investigation protocol over French military abuse allegations in CAR

U.N. defends its decision to hand evidence over to French authorities from a 2014 investigation of allegations that French military personnel sexually abused children in the Central African Republic. A spokesman said the U.N. does not interfere with individual states’ legal systems and hopes France will bring any guilty parties to justice.

UNITED NATIONS (APRIL 30, 2015) (UNTV) – After a newspaper published extracts of an internal U.N. report that investigated allegations of child sex abuse in Central African Republic by French peacekeepers, the U.N. defended its decision on Thursday (April 30) to hand the report over to French authorities instead of going public with it.

Speaking to journalists, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary General, Farhan Haq, said “We don’t try to interfere with countries’ investigative processes. At the same time what we did is through our Human Rights offices in Bangui conduct a human rights investigation in the late spring of 2014. That was in response to a series of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by French military personnel. We tried to make sure that was followed up on and in fact it is being followed up on. In terms of when it’s being made public, I believe the French authorities have their own way of processing this and you really need to ask them the question of how they disclose this sort of information as they go about this.”

Haq said that the global body’s main concern is that any guilty parties are held accountable.

“We’re not trying to interfere or prejudice an investigation. The main priority is accountability. The main priority is to make sure that whoever committed this, if the crimes were committed, that justice is done and the people who committed these alleged crimes are held accountable.”

President Francois Hollande vowed on Thursday to make an example of any French troops found guilty.

A judicial source who requested anonymity told Reuters that an initial reading of the full report suggested 14 soldiers had been involved in alleged abuse between December 2013 and June 2014. Subsequent French inquiries identified some of them, the source said, adding that none had been questioned yet.

Hollande is a strong advocate of using French military might to secure peace in ex-colonies such as Central African Republic or Mali, where he received a rapturous welcome in 2013 after France intervened to halt an Islamist insurgency.

France’s Defence Ministry said the abuse was alleged to have taken place at a centre for displaced people at M’Poko airport in the capital Bangui and involved about 10 children. It said it would take “all necessary measures” to establish the truth.

Haq said the U.N. is “very encouraged” by Hollande’s reaction and signs that authorities intend to move forward on the investigation.

“As you know these are very serious charges. And we want to make clear that that is unacceptable and that anyone that is involved needs to be held accountable and brought to justice. The information has been communicated to French authorities and they’re conducting a criminal investigation and we hope that it will result in bringing the perpetrators to justice,” Haq added.

France intervened in Central African Republic, a former French colony, some 18 months ago to stem violence between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who had seized power. It started withdrawing some of its 2,000 troops this year, handing over to U.N. peacekeepers.