UN urged to step away from peacekeeping rape probe

The United Nations is not in a position to investigate claims of sexual abuse committed by its own peacekeepers and must step aside to allow the law to take it course, a lobby group has said.

The call by Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Campaign to end impunity for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers on Monday, comes as pressure mounts on the global body following a series of allegations pitted against its troops in the Central African Republic. Donovan described the UN's ability to probe itself on such sensitive matters as untenable.

"We are saying that the UN should recuse itself in the law inforcement in assessing the crimes and in determining who should hold responsibility and be accountable for those crimes.

"This is a conflict of interest and they need to remove itself from the criminal side and focus entirely on the care of victims and allow the appropriate law enforcement officials to do their job," Donovan, a director at the AIDS-Free World NGO, said in a media briefing broadcast over the internet.

Independent impartial body

The UN has been in the spotlight for the past year after scores of allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in CAR, came to the fore.

As recently as March, the United Nations said it learned of 108 new sexual abuse cases in CAR.  A US-based advocacy group said three girls in CAR claimed they had been tied up and forced to have sex with a dog by a French military commander in 2014.

Donovan said that considering the UN had failed to deal with this scourge, the onus was now on member states to create an independent, impartial body made up of prosecutors and judges, to monitor and rule on these crimes.

The UN media department did not immediately reply to Al Jazeera's request for comment. 

Between March 2013 and late 2015, CAR had been been hit hard by communal violence. After the Muslim-led Seleka rebels took Bangui in a coup, they meted out large-scale attacks against the Christian community. The reprisal from vigilante Christian groups resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands as the country became locked in a cycle of violence.

The past five months have seen a sizable reduction in violence, with Bangui being protected by UN peacekeeping forces. But the peacekeeping operation has been marred by a dark sequence of allegations of sexual abuse leveled at its troops.

Little regard for victims 

In January, an Independent Review Panel on UN Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Foreign Military Forces in CAR released a report condemning the UN for failing to respond to allegations of child abuse against peacekeepers in CAR.

Also speaking in the online press briefing on Monday, Yasmin Sooka, one of the authors of the scathing report, said the UN had yet to implement measures that approached the issue "from a serial perspective."

Sooka said that the UN also had very little expertise in offering support to victims or even carrying out investigations.

Sooka added that the process was still marred by incessant secrecy and there was little regard for the rights of victims.

"One agency told us about a young girl taken to the French military and told [to] "identify from this group of men who the perpetrator is". You can imagine in that kind of context, the kind of trauma and damage but also the long term repurcussion and possible victimisation and stigmatisation," Sooka said. 

Follow Azad Essa on Twitter.

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