France is investigating allegations that its soldiers sexually abused starving and homeless young boys, some of whom were orphans, in the Central African Republic, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The French Defence Ministry passed a UN report on the alleged abuse to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, a spokeswoman for the office, Agnès Thibault-Lecuivre, said. A preliminary investigation began last July, but was not made public.
The confidential report details allegations that French soldiers raped and abused the boys, aged between nine and 13, she said. The parents of some of them had been killed amid chaotic factional fighting.
A nine-year-old said he and another boy had been abused by two French soldiers at a camp for internally-displaced people when they went to a checkpoint looking for something to eat. Others also said they had been raped or abused in return for food or money.
The French authorities said the soldiers would face severe punishment if the allegations were proven. A Defence Ministry statement said the alleged abuses were “an intolerable violation” of military ethics.Nearly 1,600 French troops are deployed in the Central African Republic as part of international peacekeeping efforts.
The ministry refused to say how it had obtained the report but the Guardian reported that a senior UN aid worker was suspended for disclosing it to the French authorities after the UN failed to act.
The Swedish UN official, named as Anders Kompass, was suspended last week from his job as director of field operations, based in Geneva. He could be sacked if a UN investigation concludes that he passed on the document.
The alleged abuses took place between December 2013 and June 2014 at a camp at the airport of Bangui, the Central African Republic's capital, before the UN mission in the country, Minusca, became operational.
The UN has been accused of failing to take action against paedophile rings in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its peacekeepers have also been accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti, Liberia and Burundi.
Bea Edwards of the Government Accountability Project, an international charity that protects whistleblowers, denounced the UN for a “witch-hunt against someone who acted to stop child abuse”.