France is investigating allegations that its peacekeepers sexually abused children in the Central African Republic after a leaked UN report said victims as young as eight were raped in exchange for food and money.
The French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN’s high commission for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers,” the defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.
An investigation was opened shortly after by Paris prosecutors, it said.
The defence ministry vowed to take measures to ensure that “the truth be found” and said “the strongest penalties” would be imposed on those found responsible.
The abuse was allegedly on 10 children, the ministry said, and reportedly took place at a centre for displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that UN rights investigators had conducted a probe last year following “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops, and had suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
The report was given to the British paper, The Guardian by the US-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World, which is calling for a commission of enquiry to be set up on sexual misconduct by peacekeepers.
Even though the French military said an investigation was under way on their behalf, the incident is potentially embarrasing for the UN.