US seeks transparency on alleged rapes by UN peacekeepers

Washington: The United States today called for greater transparency into alleged sexual assaults by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, demanding to know the nationalities of the accused.

The admonition from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, followed a new round of accusations received by the UN mission in the African country, known as MINUSCA, against peacekeeping troops accused of sexually assaulting women and young girls.

Power, in strongly worded testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the alleged crimes “egregious” and “horrific”.

Her testimony came a day after a French court heard charges against four French soldiers suspected of raping child refugees in the African country in 2013 and 2014.

Power said that the greatest challenge in eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse was probably “the lack of transparency on allegations”.

She said it was vital for the United Nations and its member states to know “the nationality of alleged perpetrators, the status of investigations, and the outcome of disciplinary or prosecutorial action, or of sanctions imposed by the UN”.

She added, “Unfortunately, we rarely have access to this type of information.” She was testifying at a hearing on the future of UN peacekeeping.

Power applauded a commitment by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to make public the nationalities of those against whom credible allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse have been lodged. Ban has promised a “zero tolerance” policy regarding such abuse, denouncing what he called a “cancer” in his organisation and saying he would not hesitate to repatriate entire peacekeeping units linked to such abuses if their home countries failed to punish them.

In August, he fired the head of MINUSCA, Babacar Gaye, and froze the wages of soldiers accused of sexual assaults, saying he could not put into words “how anguished, angered and ashamed I am” over such allegations.

Power told the senators today that “we have been particularly outraged at those especially egregious cases” reported in CAR. “Those who prey on the vulnerable communities they are sent to protect undermine the very foundation of peacekeeping,” she said.

She was referring to allegations received by MINUSCA in mid-November that peacekeepers had sexually attacked five women, including minors and pregnant women.

A month earlier, MINUSCA received allegations of 17 cases of sexual exploitation or abuse by military or civilian UN personnel.

The African country has been shaken by two years of sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim fighters since then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown in March 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance.

The MINUSCA force comprises nearly 11,000 uniformed personnel from some 50 countries, including the US.