French army was aware of sex abuse scandal, UN says

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 10.05.2015 21:38
Updated 11.05.2015 11:28

The United Nations stated that France should have investigated the potentially damaging scandal earlier, underscoring that French army was aware of the abuse scandal. Regarding the delayed response of the French army, the U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein stressed the "failure in passing up the information through the command and then to the rest of the forces." A criminal inquiry into claims French soldiers raped children on peacekeeping operation in Central African Republic (CAR) was launched by French prosecutors last Thursday.

France now has an opportunity to set a really high benchmark of conduct," he said in a news conference last Friday. "It's not just simply prosecutions that must be undertaken but a very serious investigation into the force structure and why it was that these allegations were not being investigated by the French authorities at the time," he said. "How is it that nobody knew?" he added. "Someone knew, some knew, aside from the soldiers and it would be junior officers."

France, which serves as a defender of human rights in its ex-African colonies, was hit severely by the rape allegations. Despite the fact that an internal U.N. report on child rape allegations revealed the incident, the report was kept secret for more than one year. Only after Britain's Guardian newspaper released the U.N. report on Wednesday, the case of the rape of boys by French troops drew intense criticism from French authorities. The U.N's expert report on sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeeping personnel states that 14 soldiers were involved in the abuse of at least 10 boys between eight and 15 years old in exchange for food, which took place between December 2013 and June 2014 right after the French military intervention begun in the conflict-ridden country. The fourteen suspected soldiers were put under investigation last week. The French move came after the CAR government announced launching its own legal action against the French soldiers.

The French military operation in the country commenced in 2013 to beef up a U.N.-backed military operation after violent clashes between Christian fighters backing deposed president Francois Bozize and Muslim militia supporting the government of President Michel Djotodia erupted in the capital city of Bangui. Since then, a joint operation by France and the African Union authorized by the U.N. Security Council has been taking place with the aim of restoring peace in the country. The U.N. peacekeepers moved there in August to help the 2,000 French troops who had previously struggled to stabilize the area.

Despite the presence of some 8,000 U.N. and 2,000 French peacekeepers in CAR, the ongoing chaos has led to the widespread killing of Muslims. Those who have survived have been placed in camps where there is no way out. After the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power early in 2013, CAR has been in a state of crisis. Since then, sectarian violence has been escalating in central and eastern parts of the country, as the anti-Balaka, Christian militia forces started to launch attacks against the Seleka.

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