The United Nations is looking into allegations that complaints of sexual abuse and exploitation made against its peacekeepers in the Central African Republic were mishandled or unreported.
The UN 10,000-strong mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has been dogged by accusations of sex abuse since it deployed in 2014 to curb fighting between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, who ousted the president, and Christian militias.
Internal UN case files handed to Code Blue – a campaign by a non-governmental organisation seeking greater accountability for UN troops – detail 14 initial fact-finding inquiries into complaints made against MINUSCA peacekeepers from nine nations.
Under UN regulations, peacekeepers are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the countries that sent them to serve abroad.
The files – not seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation – reveal 10 of the 14 cases were handled only by UN personnel, without involvement of investigators from the accused soldiers’ home countries, and in eight cases, the alleged victims were not interviewed, Code Blue said.
“These 14 cases demonstrate the UN filters reports of complaints, usually tossing them out before the matters reach competent authorities from troop-contributing countries,” said Sharanya Kanikkannan, a lawyer with Code Blue.
“This filtering ensures there is no access to justice for the vast majority of victims since they cannot gain access to law enforcement authorities without first convincing UN staff to believe them,” Kanikkannan added.
MINUSCA said in an email it is “reviewing and will transparently report on allegations (made by Code Blue)… of unreported cases of sexual exploitation and abuse”.
“MINUSCA has made the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse its core business,” said spokesman Vladimir Monteiro.
“It recognises sexual exploitation and abuse cases have severely affected the mission’s credibility and reputation in the past,” Monteiro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Following the MINUSCA response, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York he did not believe the leaked files were a “representative sample”.
In December 2015, an independent review panel criticised the United Nations for grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse and rape by international peacekeepers in 2013 and 2014 in Central African Republic, where heavy fighting continues.
Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled violence that broke out in 2013, with UN peacekeepers and national security forces struggling to contain ethnic violence stoking fears of full-blown conflict.