BANGUI, Central African Republic — A French commander tied up four girls and forced them to have sex with a dog. A Congolese peacekeeper raped a 16-year-old in a hotel room. And soldiers from France, Gabon, and Burundi sexually abused at least 108 women and children in a single province between 2013 and 2015. These are just some of the latest allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by international forces in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the U.N. mission has been roundly condemned for praying on the very citizens it was sent there to protect.
These most recent allegations, first reported on March 30 by the advocacy group AIDS-Free World, stem from leaked correspondence with U.N. investigators. The awful details represent a new low for the United Nations — but also, perhaps, a turning point. After a litany of scandals, the U.N. is now finally taking concrete actions to curb peacekeeper abuse. But critics say it isn’t going nearly far enough.
The U.N. mission in the Central African Republic, known by its French acronym MINUSCA, replaced a beleaguered African Union force in 2014 with a mandate to protect civilians in that country at a time of spiraling sectarian violence and to support a fragile political transition. Since then, it has been implicated in dozens of cases of sexual abuse, including 25 separate allegations lodged in just the first three months of 2016. The mission’s botched handling of these cases, together with earlier allegations of pedophilia by French forces stationed in the capital, Bangui, was later deemed a “gross institutional failure” by a panel of independent experts that excoriated high-ranking officials for deliberately obstructing investigators. In August of last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the unprecedented step of sacking his special representative in CAR, Babacar Gaye.