Judges in France will investigate 14 French soldiers accused of abusing children in the Central African Republic (CAR). Have the “protectors” ended up defiling those they were supposed to be protecting, and were the UN and the French government trying to cover it up?
Of all those caught up in a warzone, it is children who are most vulnerable to exploitation. When the French intervened in the civil war in the CAR 18 months ago, they called it “Operation Sangaris.”
Like the butterfly that goes by the same name, it was supposed to be a short, sharp intervention to protect the tens of thousands displaced by the fighting. But the legacy of that operation may live long after the military action.
For 14 French soldiers have now been placed under investigation after six African children aged between nine and 13 alleged that some were abused by the peacekeepers between December 2013 and June 2014. They claimed they were offered sweets in return for sexual activity with the soldiers.
This case is a matter of huge embarrassment to President Hollande, who has been keen to demonstrate France’s “positive” influence in the continent with interventions in Mali, and regular summits with African leaders.
But now both French and UN authorities are being accused of a cover-up for only admitting this scandal had occurred when a UN official blew the whistle. The CAR government is furious because it, too, was kept in the dark, and has now launched its own legal action against the soldiers.