The United Nations has fired its peacekeeping chief in the Central African Republic after a new scandal over alleged sexual abuse by UN troops, even as the sacked commander warned of a "systemic problem" of sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
Babacar Gaye, a Senegalese army general who headed the UN mission in the war-torn Central African nation, was ordered to resign on Wednesday after Amnesty International cited 15 witnesses and medical evidence to support its allegation that a UN peacekeeper had raped a 12-year-old girl during a house search in Bangui this month.
"I cannot put into words how anguished, angered and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN forces," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a press conference in New York.
He announced that he has called a special session of the UN Security Council on Thursday to discuss the problem, with all of the UN's peacekeeping commanders and police commissioners ordered to participate by video link.
"Enough is enough," he said. "I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Those who work for the United Nations must uphold our highest ideals. Yet the outrageous and indecent actions of a few people tarnishes the heroic work of tens of thousands of UN peacekeepers and personnel."
In his letter accepting the order of resignation, Mr. Gaye admitted that the UN's work in the CAR has been "overshadowed by serious cases of human rights violations, including sexual exploitation and abuse, committed by both international and United Nations forces."
He said the UN troops were often reminded of the regulations and some were even ordered to return to their home countries because of their behaviour. "And yet, abuses continued," he said in the letter to Mr. Ban.
"You may wish to consider that there could be a systemic problem warranting consideration at the highest level of the organization," he told the UN Secretary-General.
AIDS Free World, a group co-founded by former Canadian UN ambassador Stephen Lewis, said the dismissal of the peacekeeping chief was "necessary and commendable." But the group, which has campaigned for tougher UN action on the sexual-abuse scandal, said the wording of Mr. Gaye's resignation letter "speaks volumes" about the "monumental failure of leadership and appalling mismanagement" at the UN's head offices in New York and Geneva.
The resignation letter confirms "there is rot at the top and no one is dealing with it," the advocacy group said. "What was missing from the Secretary-General's remarks was any similar action internally at the highest levels of the UN bureaucracy. … There is a 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 UN has reportedly received 57 allegations of misconduct by UN peacekeeping troops in the CAR, including 11 allegations of sexual abuse, since the peacekeeping mission was launched last September.
In addition, UN investigators reported allegations of sexual abuse by more than a dozen French peacekeeping troops in the same country. They are part of a mission from France run independently of the UN operation. Homeless children told investigators that the French troops had abused them in exchange for food rations. The investigation was kept quiet until a UN whistle-blower passed on the report to French prosecutors. The UN then suspended the whistle-blower for several weeks until a judge ordered the suspension to be lifted.
In the latest case in the CAR, Amnesty reported that a 12-year-old girl was raped on Aug. 2 while UN peacekeepers from Rwanda and Cameroon were searching a house for a criminal suspect. It said the girl was fearfully hiding in a bathroom at about 2 a.m. when a man wearing the blue helmet and vest of the UN peacekeepers dragged her outside and raped her behind a truck. "When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth," the girl told Amnesty.
Amnesty researchers said the girl showed them her torn underwear and a nurse examined her and found medical evidence consistent with sexual assault.
The following day, in a separate incident, UN peacekeepers killed two unarmed civilians in the same area, Amnesty said.
"The allegations are an affront to the principles of peacekeeping and harm the credibility of the UN with the people in CAR and beyond," said Evan Cinq-Mars, a research analyst and CAR expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
"Civilians in the Central African Republic have suffered enough during the devastating conflict that has gripped the country since 2012. They should not feel that they need protection from those who have been sent to protect them."