UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Wednesday he had fired the mission chief in the Central African Republic, saying “enough is enough” after a string of allegations of child sex abuse by peacekeepers.
Babacar Gaye of Senegal “tendered his resignation at my request,” Ban told reporters at the global body’s headquarters in New York.
The move followed fresh accusations that a peacekeeper from the Minusca force had raped a 12-year-old girl, months after similar claims were made against Moroccan and Burundian troops in the unit.
France is separately investigating claims that more than a dozen of its soldiers serving in the Sangaris force in the Central African Republic sexually abused children in exchange for food in late 2013.
“I cannot put into words how anguished and angered and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN forces,” Ban said.
“When the United Nations deploys peacekeepers, we do so to protect the world’s most vulnerable people in the world’s most desperate places.”
Gaye, 64, was appointed as the first head of the 12,000-strong Minusca force and Ban’s special envoy in the Central African Republic in July of last year.
“I will not tolerate any action by people who replace trust with fear,” Ban said.
“Enough is enough.”
The Minusca force, which took over from an African Union mission in September, has been plagued by a series of allegations involving its soldiers.
So far, there have been 57 allegations of misconduct, 11 of which possibly involve child sex abuse, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Dujarric described the decision to sack a mission chief as “unprecedented” and a clear signal that the United Nations was moving to address mounting allegations of misconduct by the Blue Helmets.
The latest claims revealed by Amnesty International on Tuesday involve a girl who told witnesses that she was raped by a UN soldier during a house-to-house search in the Muslim PK5 district of Bangui last week.
“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” she told Amnesty.
The Central African Republic is struggling to recover from the sectarian violence that exploded after a 2013 coup, pitting mainly Muslim rebels against Christian militias.
A special Security Council meeting has been convened for Thursday during which Ban is to brief the 15 members of his decision and other planned measures.
Ban will also “deliver a strong message” to envoys and commanders from all 16 missions to take sexual abuse claims seriously during a meeting by video conference to be held Thursday, according to Dujarric.
“People will be held accountable,” the spokesman said.
‘FEEL NO SHAME’
Ban in June appointed a review panel led by former Canadian Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps to look into how the UN handled allegations that the French and African troops sexually abused children in the Central African Republic.
While those cases of abuse allegedly took place before Minusca was launched, the allegations were documented in a report by UN rights officials that sat on UN desks for months before action was taken.
The three-person panel has already travelled to Bangui and is due to present its findings in the coming months, but Ban said he wanted to “take action now” to enforce the UN’s zero-tolerance policy of sex abuse.
The UN chief pointedly appealed to victims of peacekeeper abuse to “please come forward” and pledged that there would be action taken in response to their claims.
“You should feel no shame. Shame belongs to the perpetrators,” Ban said.
Aids-Free World, an advocacy group that has been denouncing UN peacekeeper misconduct, said more senior UN officials should also be forced to quit over the organisation’s handling of the allegations.
“There is sickness running through the upper reaches of the UN in dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse. The secretary-general has dealt with only one part of the illness,” the group said in a statement.