The Gabonese Ministry of Defense notes a number of “acts of exceptional gravity which go against military ethics and the honor of the armed forces” reported in recent weeks.
Gabon’s defense ministry said the United Nations would withdraw the country’s peacekeeping contingent, made up of 450 men, from the Central African Republic (CAR) over allegations of sexual abuse.
“In recent weeks, acts of exceptional gravity which go against military ethics and the honor of the armed forces, committed by certain elements of the Gabonese battalions (…) have been reported,” he said. the ministry said in a statement sent to the AFP news agency on Wednesday.
“Following numerous cases of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse undergoing treatment, the United Nations decided today to withdraw the Gabonese contingent from MINUSCA”, the UN mission in CAR, and “a an investigation has been opened by Gabon, ”the statement said. .
Nicolas Haque of Al Jazeera, who has covered extensively the allegations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers that have tarnished their reputation around the world, said the lawyer representing the victims described the news as “a small victory – but it’s not sufficient”.
“What she wants to see is prosecute those implicated in cases of sexual abuse occurring in CAR itself,” he added.
“With regard to UN conventions, soldiers implicated in allegations of sexual abuse are not prosecuted in the country where the crimes are committed but rather in their country of origin. This is why we have seen Gabonese prosecutors in [the CAR’s capital] Bangui for two years, investigating the soldiers of this nation under the supervision of the UN.
One of the poorest countries in the world, the CAR has been chronically unstable since its independence from France in 1960.
He is currently suffering from the after-effects of a violent civil conflict that erupted in 2013 after a coup d’état against then-president François Bozizé.
MINUSCA was deployed by the UN in April 2014 to end the conflict between the coalition of Séléka armed groups that overthrew Bozizé and the militias that support him.
The conflict has considerably diminished in intensity, but MINUSCA has 15,000 people in the country, 14,000 of whom are in uniform.
Their main mission is to protect civilians.
Allegations of sex crimes involving peacekeepers are recurrent, and although some contingents have been withdrawn in the past, no investigation has resulted in convictions to date, at least publicly.
If the “alleged facts … are proven, the perpetrators will be brought before military courts and tried with extreme rigor,” said the Gabonese Ministry of Defense.
“Gabon has always demanded irreproachable and exemplary behavior from its army, both on its territory and abroad,” he added.
In early 2017, French judges decided not to prosecute French soldiers accused of sexually abusing minors during a peacekeeping mission in the CAR. Following an investigation, the prosecutor closed the case saying there was not enough evidence to charge the soldiers allegedly involved.
The UN has struggled for years with allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers around the world.
Since 2010, it has published 822 such allegations on its website.
By nationality, the most accused peacekeepers since 2015 are Cameroon, with 44 cases, South Africa (37), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (32), Gabon (31) and the Republic of the Congo (26) . .
In March 2018, Gabon announced its intention to withdraw its contingent as the conflict subsided.
However, three months later, at the request of Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadera, his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo Ondimba declared that the contingent would remain.