UN withdraws Gabonese peacekeepers from Central African Republic over allegations of sexual abuse

Gabon’s Defense Ministry says a series of “exceptionally serious acts that go against military ethics and the honor of the armed forces” have been reported in recent weeks.

Gabon’s Defense Ministry has said the United Nations will withdraw the 450-strong peacekeeping contingent from the country of the Central African Republic (CAR) over allegations of sexual abuse.

“In recent weeks, exceptionally serious events that violate military ethics and the honor of the armed forces have been reported, committed by certain elements of the Gabonese battalions …”, the ministry said in a statement sent to the news agency on Wednesday. AFP.

“After many cases of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse that are being prosecuted, the United Nations today decided to withdraw the Gabonese contingent from MINUSCA,” the UN mission in the Central African Republic, and “Gabon has opened an investigation,” read in the notice. .

Nicolas Haque of Al Jazeera, who has extensively covered allegations of sexual abuse against the Blue Helmets that has tarnished his reputation globally, said the lawyer representing the victims described the news as “a small victory, but it is not enough. “.

“What you want to see is the prosecution of those involved in cases of sexual abuse that occur in the Central African Republic itself,” he added.

“As for the UN conventions, the soldiers involved in the complaints of sexual abuse are not prosecuted in the country where the crimes are committed but in their country of origin. That is why we saw Gabonese prosecutors in [the CAR’s capital] Bangui for the last two years, investigating soldiers from that nation under the supervision of the UN.

Gabonese UN peacekeepers patrol in the city of Bria in the Central African Republic on June 12, 2017 [File: Saber Jendoubi/AFP]

CAR, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been chronically unstable since it gained independence from France in 1960.

It is currently suffering the aftermath of a brutal civil conflict that erupted in 2013 after a coup against then-President Francois Bozize.

MINUSCA was deployed by the UN in April 2014 to end the conflict between the Seleka coalition of armed groups that overthrew Bozize against the militias that supported him.

The conflict has been drastically reduced in intensity, but MINUSCA has 15,000 troops in the country, of which 14,000 are in uniform.

Its main mission is to protect civilians.

Allegations of sexual crimes involving peacekeepers have been recurrent and, although some contingents have withdrawn in the past, no investigation has resulted in convictions to date, at least publicly.

If the “alleged facts … are proven, the perpetrators will be brought before the military courts and tried with extreme rigor,” the Gabonese Defense Ministry said.

“Gabon has always demanded irreproachable and exemplary behavior from its army, both in its territory and abroad,” he added.

In early 2017, judges in France decided not to press charges against French soldiers accused of sexually abusing minors while on a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. Following an investigation, the prosecutor dismissed the case saying there was insufficient evidence to charge the soldiers allegedly involved.

The UN has struggled for years with allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers around the world.

Since 2010, it has posted 822 such complaints on its website.

By nationality, the peacekeepers with the most complaints against him since 2015 have been Cameroon, with 44 cases, South Africa (37), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (32), Gabon (31) and the Republic of the Congo (26). .

In March 2018, Gabon said it planned to withdraw its contingent because the conflict was subsiding.

However, three months later, at the behest of the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo Ondimba said that the contingent would stay.


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