Residents of a refugee camp in the Central African Republic have made disturbing claims against members of the French military, who are on a peacekeeping mission, on Thursday, accusing them of regularly sexually abusing children as young as nine years old. A United Nations aid worker who also leaked a report of the allegations on Wednesday has been suspended.
According to a report from the Associated Press, French authorities have acknowledged that they have been investigating the sex abuse allegations for months. Relatives of the victims indicated that they were still living in the refugee camp.
"The children were vulnerable because they were hungry and their parents had nothing to give them, so the children were forced to ask the soldiers for food," a mother said to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. "They took advantage of the children forcing them to perform oral sex and also sodomizing them. The moaning of children in the area often started around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m."
The Associated Press reported that another anonymous resident came forward, noting that the abused children were between 10 and 13 years old.
"In exchange for cookies, the soldiers demanded oral sex," the resident said, citing the children's accounts. "Afterward they were given bottles of water. They even sodomized the children."
French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron emphasized to the Associated Press that their operations were important in limiting bloodshed between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic. However, the French military did not elaborate on whether or not suspects have been identified.
"For the moment, we don't know if the facts have been proven," Jaron said.
According to the Associated Press, French President Francois Hollande promised on Thursday that he would "set an example" on the soldiers involved in the "very serious" allegations if they are proven to be true.
In an explosive report from Sandra Laville of the Guardian, senior United Nations worker Anders Kompass leaked a UN internal report on the sexual abuse of children to French authorities. The UN has since suspended him on accusations of "leaking a confidential UN report and breaching protocols."
"He is under investigation by the UN office for internal oversight service (OIOS) amid warnings from a senior official that access to his case must be 'severely restricted,' Laville wrote. "He faces dismissal."
Laville reported that the Guardian received the internal report from Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group Aids Free World. The Guardian then elaborated on the report's contents, which were commissioned by the UN office of the high commissioner for human rights.
"Entitled Sexual Abuse on Children by International Armed Forces and stamped 'confidential' on every page, the report details the rape and sodomy of starving and homeless young boys by French peacekeeping troops who were supposed to be protecting them at a center for internally displaced people in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic," Laville wrote.
According to Laville, Donovan has demanded an independent inquiry into how the UN handled sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
"The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations' appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn't uncommon," Donovan said. "The UN's instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks - ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble - must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power."
The Guardian reported that the UN's treatment of Kompass, a Swedish national, could have the potential to start a huge diplomatic row with Sweden. The Swedish ambassador to the international organization has warned UN officials that "it would not be a good thing if the high commissioner for human rights forced" Kompass to resign his post.
"The ambassador threatened to go public if that happened and to engage in a potentially ugly and harmful debate," Laville wrote.