"Offensive" was the word used by the United Nations on Friday to describe suggestions that the organization had participated in a cover-up of the alleged sexual abuse of children by French soldiers in the Central African Republic.
Revelations made public this week say that a leaked UN report from last July alleges French peacekeeping troops in the war-torn country sexually assaulted hungry children in exchange for food, causing an international uproar.
The UN human rights office, which is in charge of investigating the leak, has faced accusations of trying to hide the crimes from the public, something it soundly denies.
"I think any implication that (UN human rights chief) Zeid Raad al-Hussein would try to cover up sexual abuse (of) children is frankly offensive and highly unlikely if you look at his personal history," spokesman Rupert Colville told the press from the UN office in Geneva.
Colville added that Zeid, who took over as rights chief in September, had previously spearheaded the UN campaign to address the problem of sexual abuse by peacekeepers. He also explained that the reason why it took until one year after the UN began interviewing potential victims in May 2014 for the story to come to light was because investigations of this nature are kept secret until they are finished in order to protect underage victims.
"No mercy," says Hollande
Colville further stressed that the troops implicated in the scandal were not actually UN peacekeepers, and thus it was up to France, not the UN, to investigate.
According a source from the French judiciary, the case involves 14 soldiers sent to the Central African Republic to restore order after a coup in 2013. The victims are said to have been begging for food near a home for displaced people in the nation's capital of Bangui, the youngest being only nine at the time of the supposed abuse.
French President Francois Hollande has pledged to show "no mercy" if the accusations turn out to be true.
Regarding the veracity of the allegations, the UN said Friday that "it is possible, it's horribly possible" that they are true, and that indeed more cases could come to light, but due to the chaos in the CAR at the time of the suspected abuse, and that everyone would have to wait for the final word from the French authorities.
es/jil (AP, AFP)