On June 4th, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon authorized an independent, external investigation into the organization's response to an internal report detailing the sexual abuse of children by peacekeeping French and African troops deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR). This authorization, however, came over one month after news of the child sexual abuse scandal broke, and only after rights groups severely criticized the UN for its failure to promptly investigate the allegations and punish those responsible.
Despite the long delay, the UN announcement is welcomed and necessary to restore the credibility of, and trust in, the organization charged with protecting and safeguarding human rights worldwide. The UN must take this opportunity to come clean and be transparent, instead of sheltering the perpetrators of the appalling abuses.
According to the non-governmental organization Aids Free World and The Guardian newspaper,the report—which both organizations were privy to—gives ample graphic detail of the sexual abuse of children between nine and 15 years of age. The abuse occurred in a centre for internally displaced people in Bangui, the CAR's capital. The abuse, which included rape and sodomy, took place between December 2013 and June 2014, and was committed by French, Chadian, and Equatoguinean peacekeeping forces, before the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission “MINUSCA”. The abusive acts were carried out in exchange for food or money.
While the French authorities were quick to react to the report – they launched an investigationand promised to deal severely with those found to be guilty – President Obiang’s government in Equatorial Guinea has been shamelessly silent.
In addition to the country’s missing reaction on the global stage, there is no independent media in Equatorial Guinea. Thus, the people of Equatorial Guinea remain completely uninformed of the outrageous actions their soldiers directed toward children while on a peacekeeping mission in a neighbouring country.
In the face of the grave accusations of child sexual abuse made against Equatoguinean soldiers, President Obiang, who has spared no efforts or wealth to cultivate an image as a caring and unifying African leader, must respond by immediately instituting a thorough and impartial investigation to establish responsibilities and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law.
In addition, the government of Equatorial Guinea must urgently put in place the necessary measures to ensure that such abuses do not happen again. The measures should include:
- Ensuring that personnel who take part in peacekeeping missions receive rigorous training on human rights, especially in areas of child protection, before deployment.
- Ensuring that personnel to be deployed are thoroughly vetted with a view toward excluding those with a criminal record or who have been disciplined, including for sexual offenses, human rights violations, or other criminal acts.