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Central African Republic: French soldiers accused of raping children

Translated Saturday 9 May 2015, by Carly Coulter

Fourteen French soldiers are accused, and a small minority among them has been identified in the investigation headed by the Public Prosecutor’s department in Paris. The charges concern the sexual abuse of children committed by the soldiers in the Central African Republic, announced a judicial source, Thursday, 30 April.

Among the soldiers, “very few” have been identified. As for the underage witnesses against the soldiers, they number 6 at this stage of the investigation, aged 9 to 13, of whom four are said to be direct victims and two said they witnessed acts of sexual abuse.

A confidential UN report documents the rape of children committed since December by French soldiers involved in Operation Sangaris in the CAR. The report was made public Wednesday, 29 April by the British daily newspaper The Guardian.

The acts took place between December 2013 and June 2014. A dozen starving and homeless children, some of who were as young as 9 years old, were subjected to, according to The Guardian, “rape” and “sodomy” by French soldiers.

These minors, sometimes orphans, were places under the protection of the soldiers in the M’Poko camp, which welcomes displaced persons who have fled the zones ravaged by conflict. These children were “exploited” for “food and money” according to the paper. Based on an internal UN report, The Guardian explains that the children could provide “good descriptions of the soldiers involved”.

These new accounts corroborate the confidential UN report relayed by the British paper. One woman states: “When the children come like that to ask the French or Georgians for a bit to eat, they respond: ‘You have to suck me off first’.”

Another man assures that he was also a witness to sexual violence on the part of soldiers against minors. “It was night, the French soldiers gave ration packs to the children, and raped them. The Georgian soldiers, there were three of them on one 16 year old girl at the entrance to the airport”, he explained.

The French Ministry of Defence received the ‘working document’ from the UN on 29 July, thanks to the intervention of a civil servant of the international organisation who feared the document would be buried. Immediately after being informed, the Public Prosecutor’s department in Paris opened a preliminary investigation into the rape of minors aged 15 years or younger on 31 July.

As part of that effort, France sent a team to Bangui on 1 August 2014 to lead an investigation in cooperation with the UN. “The investigation is in progress with the call for mutual international assistance”, revealed the French Ministry of Justice Wednesday, without further clarification.

At the same time, “in view of the circumstantial nature of the witnesses and the extreme gravity of the alleged acts (…), an investigation of the command was immediately conducted”, assured the French Ministry of Defence. This investigation into the heart of the army, aimed at updating the potentially dysfunctional chain of command, is closed and lasted only a few days. The army did not detail the contents of the command report, which is “classified”, but may relay it to the Ministry of Justice upon request.

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