France Investigates Allegations of Child Sex Abuse Perpetrated by its Soldiers in Central African Republic

French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver a speech after a defence council meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 29, 2015. REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES
French President Francois Hollande arrives to deliver a speech after a defence council meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 29, 2015.
REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES

France is investigating claims that French soldiers deployed to the Central African Republic as peacekeepers sexually abused and exploited vulnerable children.

The abuses were allegedly committed against a dozen children at M’Poko International Airport in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, between December 2013 and June 2014.

In comments broadcast Thursday by CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV, French President Francois Hollande promised strong action if the allegations are confirmed.

“If some soldiers behaved badly, I will be merciless,” he said. “If this information is confirmed, there will be exemplary sanctions.”

The furor has been fueled by the leaking of a confidential report by the U.N. Office of Human Rights on the allegations.

A U.N. staffer has been suspended over the leak, a statement from the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

The unnamed staffer is accused of providing an unedited version of the internal U.N. report to French authorities before it even reached senior management in the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Rape and sodomy claims

According to the statement from Ban’s spokesman, the alleged offenses occurred before a United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA, was set up.

The U.N. human rights investigation was carried out in late spring of 2014.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper, which says it has been given a copy of the report by advocacy group Aids Free World, reports that it “details the rape and sodomy of starving and homeless young boys by French peacekeeping troops who were supposed to be protecting them at a centre for internally displaced people.”

The report, which the Guardian says has “confidential” stamped on every page, reportedly tells how the children described being abused in return for food and money.

One 9-year-old said he and a friend were abused by two French soldiers, who forced them to carry out a sex act, when they went to a checkpoint in the camp looking for food, the Guardian reports.

A French Defense Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Paris on Thursday that the army had not gone public about the case previously because a judicial inquiry was ongoing.

“Obviously, if these facts were proven, as you know, they are totally against our values, the values held by the French army,” he said. “Of course if these facts were proven, firm sanctions would be implemented against those responsible.”

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian “decided there would be zero tolerance on all that is sexual violence,” he said.

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SOURCE: Laura Smith-Spark and Sandrine Amiel
CNN

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