United Nations peacekeepers based in the Central African Republic allegedly raped or sexually abused at least seven women and girls in October to December of last year, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) published Thursday. Victims of the exploitation include a 14-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman, who recounted being gang-raped by peacekeepers in the town of Bambari.
"In a country where armed groups routinely prey on civilians, peacekeepers should be protectors not predators. Sending peacekeepers back home is not enough," said Hillary Margolis, a women's rights researcher at HRW, according to The Guardian. She declared that the U.N. should "insist that troops' home countries bring rapists and other abusers to justice, and that survivors get the support they need."
The U.N. says that it is investigating the new claims, which follow more than 20 previous accusations, and in a press release on Thursday, the organization announced that 120 of its peacekeepers will be sent home from the region during the investigation. The press release identifies the soldiers implicated in the allegations as being from Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"I will not rest until these heinous acts are uncovered, perpetrators are punished, and incidents cease," the U.N envoy for Central African Republic and head of the U.N. mission Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said during a visit to Bambari, as Reuters reports.
He reminded the troops that "sexual abuse and exploitation is a serious breach of the U.N. regulations and a human rights violation; a double crime that affects the vulnerable women and children you were sent here to protect."
Last year U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass brought international attention to the sexual abuse of children by French peacekeeping troops involved in restoring order to the Central African Republic since 2013. The U.N. was criticized last year for not taking concrete action to address the allegations, as outlined by The New York Times.
Anthony Banbury, assistant secretary general to the U.N., said that there are around 69 confirmed allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation among the U.N.'s 16 international peacekeeping missions, for the whole of 2015, as reported by The Globe and Mail. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be releasing a report with details of all of the 2015 allegations later this month.
Sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims broke out in the Central African Republic in 2013, following decades of instability since gaining independence from France. It is estimated that 6,000 people have been killed as a result of the violence, with 450,000 people being internally displaced, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.