A UN report has revealed that 14 French peacekeepers are suspected of sexually abusing children in Central African Republic (CAR). DW spoke to AIDS-Free World's Paula Donovan, who leaked the report.
The report was leaked by a senior UN official and given to British newspaper The Guardian by Paula Donovan, co-director of the organization AIDS-Free World. French President Francois Hollande has promised tough punishment for any soldier found guilty of sexual abuse and a defense ministry spokesman said efforts were being made to verify the truth of the accusations. DW spoke to Paula Donovan.
DW: These abuses allegedly took place around refugee camps inside CAR in 2013 and 2014. Can you tell us more about what is alleged to have happened?
Paula Donovan: It seems as though roughly 10 to 12 children are known to the UN as having been victims of sexual abuse by a variety of different French soldiers. Six of those children were interviewed directly by the UN, UNICEF and the Commission for Human Rights officers on the ground. The interviews took place in May and towards the end of June and the interviewers asked questions which the children answered about the abuses that they had themselves suffered or had witnessed. In most cases it was soldiers asking or demanding that if children wanted some small food rations or a little bit of water or cash, they would have to perform oral sex on the soldiers. The soldiers seemed to have been extracting these sexual abuses out of the children independently or in teams. It's not like a pedophile ring or anything along those lines. Soldiers at random seemed to have decided that they could exploit and sexually abuse various kids in different states of distress. Some of these children were homeless, hungry and desperate. Others had been either separated from their families or even lost their parents during the conflict in early December 2013. So it's quite an ugly scene.
Usually when we hear of rape in conflict areas, we think of the victims being women and girls. It seems that most of the children abused in this case were boys. Were girls not affected in this specific case?
All the children interviewed were boys and all the children mentioned by those interviewees were boys.
The whistleblower, a senior UN official, was suspended from his position at the UN for leaking this document to French authorities. What does this say about the UN's willingness to actually tackle this problem and bring it out into the open?
I don't know why there is such a focus on the person who gave this document to the French prosecutors. I haven't spoken to him or had any contact with him. But from the way I have heard this described, I don't think that this is a case of leaking. I think this is a case of delivering a document without going through the proper protocol channels according to the UN. With such a horrendous situation on the ground in CAR, and so much misconduct at the very top levels of the United Nations doing damage control and just trying to manipulate things for political purposes to prevent the UN's reputation from being damaged, but with so much awful stuff happening to children and so many perpetrators of grotesque crimes at large, I will never understand this singular focus on one man who took a document that was going to end up in the hands of French authorities eventually anyway, and brought it directly to the French himself. To consider that the high crime among all these vicious, violent and disgusting crimes, makes absolutely no logical or ethical sense to me.
What in your eyes should be the next step in addressing this case?
I believe that all appropriate authorities with any wherewithal should conduct criminal investigations and ensure that as many children who were affected by these abuses or may still be affected by these abuses in CAR who can possibly be located, are located and assisted. That should happen immediately. It should be all hands on deck with the victims as the very first concern of everyone - from member states, from the French to other member states and to all branches of the United Nations that could be appropriately involved. That's one thing. And on a parallel level, I think that the handling of this case and the tremendous numbers of sexual exploitations and abuse allegations throughout the world in peacekeeping operations are so miserably dealt with by the United Nations, they never ever seem to come to light unless the media gets involved and then suddenly there's a scramble to do the right thing or to control the damage. I think this needs a full commission of inquiry, completely independent of the UN, that will look into every aspect of sexual exploitation and abuse by both military and civilian peacekeeping personnel and all the headquarters and other staff who are supervising and running peacekeeping missions around the world. This all needs to be thoroughly investigated and looked into by an independent commission that member states should be calling for.
Paula Donovan is the co-director of AIDS-Free World
Interview: Isaac Mugabi