UN official: States should take 'strong' action on sex abuse

A top U.N. official on Tuesday stepped up pressure on all 193 member states to impose the "strongest" disciplinary and criminal sanctions against peacekeepers found guilty of sexual abuse, less than a month after the Security Council approved its first-ever resolution on the escalating problem.

Undersecretary-General Atul Khare said during a meeting of the General Assembly that sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers must be swiftly and professionally investigated, preferably in tandem with the U.N.'s internal investigative unit.

"We count on all member states to live up to their responsibilities to expeditiously bring to justice those who have committed crimes while serving with the United Nations and to impose the strongest of disciplinary and criminal sanctions warranted under their national laws," he said.

It's up to the home country of the soldier or police officer to conduct investigations and determine the punishments if allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation are proven.

Khare's comments came on the same day that French judicial authorities announced that they had launched an investigation into new sex abuse allegations against French troops in Central African Republic. A French official said the probe is not related to the most serious sex abuse allegations in U.N. peacekeeping — accusations by a U.S.-based group claiming that three girls told U.N. staff they were tied up, undressed and forced to have sex with a dog by a French military commander in 2014.

The U.N. has been in the spotlight for months over allegations of child rape and other sexual abuses by its peacekeepers, especially those based in Central African Republic and Congo. The U.N. says there were 69 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers in 2015.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council approved its first-ever resolution tackling the problem. The U.S.-drafted resolution endorses Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's decision to repatriate military or police units "where there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse." It also calls for Ban to replace contingents where allegations are not properly investigated, perpetrators are not held accountable or the secretary-general is not informed on the progress of investigations.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said during the discussion Tuesday that allegations against French peacekeepers were "shocking to us, profoundly shocking." He said his country has taken action by providing new training that reinforces a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse.

Delattre also said that the French authorities now send allegations received from the U.N. to the country's judiciary for investigation and possible prosecution. If allegations are found to be true, the judiciary should then mete out "exemplary punishments," he said.

"France's determination to prevent and combat the scourge of sexual abuse is complete," Delattre said.

Khare said the secretary-general has requested that member states establish onsite court martial proceedings against peacekeepers in cases where allegations amount to sex crimes under national laws as well as provide DNA samples from soldiers accused of sexual abuse.

More than 100,000 troops and police are deployed in the U.N.'s far-flung peacekeeping operations, the vast majority from developing countries. The United Nations reimburses troop-contributing countries for salaries and provides allowances for the peacekeepers.