The United Nations human rights chief said there were delays reporting allegations that French troops sexually assaulted boys in the Central African Republic, a day after France opened an investigation into the case.
“We could have done better in terms of time,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, told reporters on Friday in Geneva.
The Paris prosecutor’s office on Thursday opened a formal judicial inquiry into the alleged sexual exploitation of children between December 2013 and June 2014. The announcement came a week after the London-based Guardian newspaper revealed that the office had been aware of the accusations since July, citing a leaked copy of a UN report describing sodomy and rape of boys as young as eight, at a center for displaced people at M’Poko airport in Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui.
The French prosecutor’s office blamed the UN’s hierarchy for taking six months to respond to requests for answers from the report’s author. While recognizing the UN’s shortcomings, Al Hussein also found fault with France for failing to pursue its own probe into alleged wrongdoings committed by its own soldiers and instead waiting for the UN to alert it.
“It is regrettable that in one way the burden of responsibility has shifted almost entirely on the UN,” he said. “Why was there no national investigation?”
In December 2013, France sent troops to its former colony in Africa to protect civilians from sectarian violence. While the UN Security Council authorized the mission, the French were not operating as official UN peacekeepers.
The report, which was leaked by a Swedish aid worker, carried testimonies from six children on how they were sexually abused in return for food and money, according to a copy of the report seen by Bloomberg News.
An 11-year-old boy said he was abused when he went out looking for food. A nine-year-old said when he and his friend went to a checkpoint to find something to eat, they were forced by two French soldiers to carry out a sex act.