Friday, October 16, 2015

What did the French Army know, and when did it know it?

The plot continues to thicken in the case of sexual misconduct by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The New York Times reports here that French military authorities were advised within a month that soldiers had been buying sexual favors from children. Excerpt:
[UN] official, Gallianne Palayret, a human rights investigator who led the first inquiries into suspected abuse, said in a Skype interview that she had informed the French peacekeepers’ commanding officer and the unit’s legal affairs officer about the allegations in May 2014. This was the same month that she started interviewing children who might have been victimized and two months before the French authorities have said they first heard about the matter. 
Ms. Palayret first went public with her assertions Oct. 1 in the French news media. There has been no response so far from France’s Defense Ministry, and her account has not been publicly corroborated by others directly involved. 
Nonetheless, Ms. Palayret’s assertions, if accurate, would shed new light on a scandal that is the subject of investigations by two United Nations panels and by the French government, and they would raise fresh questions about when the French authorities first learned of the abuse and what action they took.
*   *   *
. . . Ms. Palayret said that she met the colonel in charge of the French peacekeepers in May and June 2014, requesting extra patrols where abuse was suspected to prevent any recurrence. She informed her superiors in the human rights office in Bangui of those meetings, she said. 
The French officers reacted with shock and disbelief, Ms. Palayret said. “They told me: ‘This is hardly possible because if one soldier did this, the other soldiers would kill him. This is not accepted in our ranks,’ ” she recalled. 
“They said they would take this very seriously, that they would inform Paris, that they would do as I asked to put more patrols and controls” around locations where children said the abuse had occurred, Ms. Palayret said, although she never ascertained whether they had done so.

More than a year after the French government said it first learned of the allegations and 16 months after Ms. Palayret says she brought the issue to the attention of French military authorities in Bangui, no charges have been brought. 
This story has been unfolding in bits and pieces for months, with separate responses from UN Headquarters in New York and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. One subplot concerns a short-lived effort to retaliate against an OHCHR employee.

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