UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday ousted his top official in the Central African Republic (CAR), after repeated accusations that peacekeepers there had committed what Ban called “terrible crimes of sexual violence” against civilians, including children.
The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Central African Republic Babacar Gaye resigned “at my request,” Ban said.
Dismissing a veteran and senior official is “unprecedented” in the UN system Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“I cannot put into words how anguished and angered and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN forces,” Ban said in New York, adding that he planned to talk to all his mission chiefs and force commanders in a video conference yesterday.
Ban said he would press them to “report allegations immediately, investigate thoroughly and act decisively” when they are made aware of allegations of sexual abuse by UN personnel, both military and civilian.
“Failure to do so will have clear consequences,” he said. “I want our leaders to know they are accountable.”
Ban also said he would ask the UN Security Council to convene yesterday in an emergency session.
His actions came a day after Amnesty International said that a police officer deployed by the UN in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, had raped a 12-year-old girl during a search operation.
It was the latest in a series of accusations of rape and sexual abuse of children by foreign peacekeepers in that country.
Since the mission was established last year, UN personnel have been accused in 11 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, Dujarric said.
Even before the UN mission was established there, French peacekeepers sent to protect civilians were accused of sexually abusing boys in the capital over a six-month period that began in December last year. The UN uncovered the allegations but was accused of mishandling its own inquiry. France has said it is investigating, but has yet to announce any charges.
Ban has appointed an independent panel to review how the UN handled that episode. Its report is due this year.
Gaye was the military adviser to the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, between 2010 and 2013, after which he became the UN envoy to the Central African Republic. He was also a force commander for the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For years, the issue of how to stanch sexual abuse within its ranks has bedeviled the UN.
According to its own figures, there were nearly 80 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN personnel last year. This represents a decline in complaints, but given the tendency to underreport such crimes, UN officials said the numbers could well be higher.
A separate internal inquiry into how the organization handles sexual abuse claims found that investigations tended to be mired in procedural matters, that commanders were not always held accountable for misconduct in their contingents and that the most common form of punishment turned out to be sending the accused back home, where there were no guarantees of prosecution.
Ban’s remarks signaled his frustration with that pattern.
“I want member states to know that I cannot do this alone,” he said. “They have the ultimate responsibility to hold individual uniformed personnel to account, and they must take decisive preventive and punitive action.”
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