Note by the Secretary-General
The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the General Assembly the report of an independent review on sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 70/286.
Report of an independent review on sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic: “Taking action on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers”
When peacekeepers exploit the vulnerability of the people they have been sent to protect, it is a fundamental betrayal of trust. When the international community fails to care for the victims or to hold the perpetrators to account, that betrayal is compounded.
In the spring of 2014, allegations came to light that international troops serving in a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic had sexually abused a number of young children in exchange for food or money (the “allegations”). The alleged perpetrators were largely from a French military force known as the Sangaris forces, which were operating as peacekeepers under authorization of the Security Council but not under United Nations command.
The manner in which United Nations agencies responded to the allegations was seriously flawed. The Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) failed to take any action to follow up on the allegations; he neither asked the Sangaris forces to institute measures to end the abuses nor directed that the children be removed to safe housing. He also failed to direct his staff to report the allegations at a higher level within the United Nations. Meanwhile, both the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations human rights staff in the Central African Republic failed to ensure that the children received adequate medical attention and humanitarian aid, and to take steps to protect other potential victims identified by the children who first raised the allegations.
Instead, information about the allegations was passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple United Nations offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations. Indeed, even when the Government of France became aware of the allegations and requested the cooperation of United Nations staff in its investigation, these requests were met with resistance and became bogged down in formalities. Staff became overly concerned with whether the allegations had been improperly “leaked” to the French authorities, and focused on protocols rather than action. The welfare of the victims and the accountability of the perpetrators appeared to be an afterthought, if considered at all. Overall, the response of the United Nations was fragmented and bureaucratic, and failed to satisfy the core mandate of the United Nations to address human rights violations.
By examining these failures and recommending reforms to deter future incidents of sexual violence by peacekeepers, the present report provides an opportunity for the United Nations to chart a new course of action and to undertake meaningful organizational change. If the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy is to become a reality, the United Nations as a whole — including troop-contributing countries — must recognize that sexual abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers is not a mere disciplinary matter, but a violation of the victims’ fundamental human rights and, in many cases, a violation of international humanitarian and criminal law. Regardless of whether the peacekeepers were acting under direct United Nations command, victims must be made the priority. In particular, the United Nations must recognize that sexual violence by peacekeepers triggers its human rights mandate to protect victims, investigate, report and follow up on human rights violations, and take measures to hold perpetrators accountable. In the absence of concrete action to address wrongdoing by the very persons sent to protect vulnerable populations, the credibility of the United Nations and the future of peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy.
An overview of the allegations
Between May and June 2014, a Human Rights Officer working for MINUSCA, together with local UNICEF staff, interviewed six young boys. The children reported that they had been subjected to sexual abuse by international peacekeeping troops or that they had witnessed other children being abused. In most cases, the alleged perpetrators were from the French Sangaris forces. In exchange, the children received small amounts of food or cash from the soldiers. All of the incidents occurred between December 2013 and June 2014, near the M’Poko camp for internally displaced persons, in Bangui. In some cases, the children also reported detailed information about the perpetrators, including names and certain distinguishing features such as tattoos, piercings and facial features.
The information reported by the children indicates that the violations were likely not isolated incidents. For example, some of the children described witnessing the rape of other child victims (who were not interviewed by the Human Rights Officer); others indicated that it was known that they could approach certain Sangaris soldiers for food, but would be compelled to submit to sexual abuse in exchange. In several cases, soldiers reportedly acknowledged or coordinated with each other, for example, by bringing a child onto the base past guards, where civilians were not authorized to be, or by calling out to children and instructing them to approach (indicating that the perpetrators did not fear being caught). In sum, if the allegations are substantiated by further investigation, they could potentially indicate the existence of a pattern of sexual violence against children by some peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic.