The entire Gabonese contingent attached to the UN Mission in Central African Republic (CAR) are to be “sent home immediately” in the wake of credible reports alleging five girls were abused by unidentified blue helmets.
The removal of the 450-strong military detachment from the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces (Forces de défense et de sécurité Gabonaises) exit the CAR and their commitment to MINUSCA.
In a statement the UN Mission said “in line with the UN global policy of assistance and support to victims of sexual exploitation or abuse by UN personnel or related staff, identified victims received immediate care and support from Mission partners, according to medical, psycho-social and protection needs”.
A UN investigator was appointed to investigate the SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse) allegations and given 90 days to complete the investigation. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) opened an investigation and “stands ready to assist should a national investigator be appointed.”
“Due to the serious nature of the reported allegations, the UN Secretariat took a decision to repatriate the entire Gabonese contingent of MINUSCA,” the CAR Mission statement reads.
The decision was communicated to the Gabonese government based on a Security Council resolution relating to troops, which makes clear “in the face of instances of credible evidence of widespread and systemic sexual exploitation and abuse, or failures to take appropriate steps to investigate, hold perpetrators accountable, or keep the Secretary-General informed of progress, units of the member State should be replaced”.
MINUSCA remains “committed to fighting sexual exploitation and abuse by its personnel and fully implementing” the UN zero tolerance policy on SEA.
Gabon’s defence ministry also opened an inquiry. “If the allegations are proven true, the instigators will be put in front of a tribunal and judged with extreme rigor,” it said.
The CAR, rich in diamonds, timber and gold, struggles for stability since a rebellion in 2013 ousted former president Francois Bozize.
Violence flared since a December election saw President Faustin-Archange Touadera win another term in an outcome disputed by a militia coalition.
Allegations of sexual abuse dogged the UN mission over the years. MINUSCA’s former head, Babacar Gaye, resigned in 2015 after sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers, with fresh cases emerging in 2016. The CAR UN mission is not alone. In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) similar allegations were made against peacekeepers in 2017.
South African troops came under the spotlight for alleged roles in SEA in the DRC. In 2018, five soldier faced paternity tests for children of four women and a girl who said they were sexually exploited in eastern Congo between 2014 and 2016. Four incidents concerned sexually exploitative relations with adults and the fifth sexual abuse of a minor.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) deploys over a thousand soldiers to the DRC as part of the United Nations mission there (MONUSCO).
Sexually exploitative relations usually refers to paying for sex with women from vulnerable communities and UN peacekeeping regulations prohibit soldiers from relationships with local citizens, consensual or not.
Nine SEA cases were reported against South African soldiers on peacekeeping missions in 2017 and four in 2018. This compares to seven SEA cases in 2015 and five in 2016.
South African soldiers deployed continentally were implicated in SEA incidents, ranging from rape to taking advantage of women or forming relationships, seen as an abuse of powers.
South African soldiers receive SEA guidance ahead of and during SANDF deployments and it is an integral component of training. Former defence minister Nosivwe Mapisa-Nqakula established a ministerial task team to deal with reported SEA cases in December 2019.