The UN has ordered an external investigation into how it handled allegations of child abuse by French and African soldiers in the Central African Republic. The organization was criticized for the time it took to respond.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Wednesday that he will set up an independent review to make sure the organization "does not fail the victims of sexual abuse, especially when committed by those who are meant to protect them."
The UN has come under fire for failing to act after it prepared an initial 2014 report into alleged child sexual abuse committed by soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea between December 2013 and June 2014.
UN officials documented cases in May and June 2014 of children as young as nine who were forced to perform oral sex in exchange for food from French troops at a camp for displaced people in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui. It took them more than half a year, however, to follow up the claims of abuse. No arrests have yet been made.
"There are systems that failed here," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday.
"The secretary-general is deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual abuse by soldiers in the CAR, as well as allegations of how this was handled by the various parts of the UN system involved."
The UN is currently preparing an internal inquiry of its handling of the allegations. Dujarric said the external review would be set up in the coming days, and would focus on the specific allegations and a "range of systemic issues related to how the UN responds to serious information of this kind."
The cases of abuse were made public in April by Britain's Guardian newspaper, which obtained leaked UN documents from the organization AIDS-Free World. The NGO said it welcomed the external probe, but added that "it must be understood that top members of the secretary-general's own staff will have to be subject to investigation."
Authorities in France last month opened a formal judicial inquiry into the allegations. French troops were deployed to the Central African Republic, a former French colony, in December 2013 to help African Union peacekeepers quell violence that broke out in the wake of a coup.
nm/bk (Reuters, AFP, AP)