UN official: Peacekeepers committing crimes must be punished

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BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — International peacekeepers who commit crimes must be punished, the U.N. human rights chief said on Friday following the revelation of yet another sexual abuse allegation in Central African Republic.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein spoke of the scandal at the end of his visit to this country where thousands have died in sectarian fighting since late 2013.

The latest allegation involves a soldier from the French forces who are not part of the U.N. mission. Several U.N. peacekeepers, who began arriving a year ago, also stand accused of sexual abuses in more than a dozen cases around Central African Republic.

"There is no excuse, no mitigating circumstances, nothing at all to justify the acts themselves or the failure to apply punishments that fit the crime," Zeid said at a news conference in the capital, Bangui.

Under an agreement with the U.N., countries have the sole responsibility to prosecute their troops taking part in peacekeeping missions, but if they take no action to investigate, the U.N. can step in. Even then, the U.N. only has the power to repatriate troops and suspend payments to countries for troops who are accused.

"Over the years many proposals have been made to improve the way we deal with this issue that so often bedevils peace-keeping operations, not least ways to deter and prevent these appalling acts against defenseless people we are supposed to be protecting," Zeid said. "We preach the importance of combatting impunity yet - in the case of our own soldiers -- we more often than not totally fail to do so. "

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