An internal United Nations inquiry has identified 25 peacekeepers from Burundi and 16 from Gabon accused of sexual abuse and exploitation in the Central African Republic in 2014 and 2015, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“Responsibility for further investigations lies with Burundi and Gabon,” Dujarric said, adding the UN had asked those states to interview identified troops, who all left Central African Republic before the allegations surfaced.
The 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) there has been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse since its deployment in April 2014 to curb fighting between mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and rival anti-balaka Christian militias.
Central African Republic, which holds reserves of uranium, gold and diamonds, suffered the biggest crisis in its half-century of independence in early 2013 when Seleka toppled then President Francois Bozize.
French troops deployed in a separate intervention in the former French colony have also been accused of abuses.
The 41 troops from Gabon and Burundi were identified by 45 possible victims in Central African Republic’s Kemo prefecture, Dujarric said.
However, in 83 of the 139 cases investigated by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the possible victims were unable to identify peacekeepers they accused of abuse or exploitation or provide corroborating evidence. A further three cases were considered unreliable.
The inquiry found another eight victims described distinctive traits of peacekeepers accused of abuse, but could not identify them through photos or corroborating evidence.
A draft UN memo, written by the chief of the UN Department of Field Support’s Conduct and Discipline Unit in August citing information from the OIOS inquiry, suggested many accusations were strikingly similar and appeared to be motivated by financial gain.
The memo said: “OIOS notes many of the complaints followed a specific pattern of accusations; many of the complainants’ stories were nearly identical, lacked specific details and fell apart when probed. It appeared as though complainants had memorised a script.”
The memo said a local charity tasked with referring abuse accusations to the UN children’s agency UNICEF had placed complainants on a monthly remuneration scheme, offering a financial incentive for people to present themselves as victims.
In December, an independent review panel criticised the United Nations for mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse by international peacekeepers, not under UN command, in Central African Republic.
“The alleged perpetrators, if allegations against them are substantiated, and, if warranted, their commanding officers, will not be accepted again for deployment in peacekeeping operations,” Dujarric said.