The Georgian Ministry of Defense said on Friday it will “investigate in great detail” allegations that members of the Georgian armed forces were involved in sexual abuse of minors while serving in the EU military mission in the Central African Republic (CAR).
MoD released the statement shortly after Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights said on January 29 that there are “allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors in the Central African Republic by members of foreign military forces” – among them from Georgia and France.
The alleged crimes mostly took place in 2014, but “only came to light in recent weeks,” according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“A joint UN team in the CAR recently interviewed a number of girls who said they had been sexually exploited or abused by foreign soldiers. Four of the girls said their abusers were attached to contingents operating as part of the European Union operation (EUFOR/CAR). Two of the girls interviewed said they were raped by EUFOR soldiers, and the two other girls said they were paid to have sexual relationships with other EUFOR soldiers. While the nationalities of some of the soldiers remain unclear, three of the girls said they believed their abusers were members of the Georgian EUFOR contingent. The four girls were aged between 14 and 16 at the time of the alleged abuse,” the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights said.
It also said that the UN human rights staff also interviewed a girl and a boy, who were aged 7 and 9 respectively in 2014 and who were allegedly sexually abused by French troops.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein last week “raised the cases with the European, Georgian and French authorities, as well as with another country on a similar allegation for which additional corroboration is needed,” his office said.
It said that all four authorities have promptly responded to the High Commissioner and stated that they have already begun investigations.
“These are extremely serious accusations and it is crucial that these cases are thoroughly and urgently investigated,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said. “I am heartened at the initial responses we have received from the countries concerned, as well as from the European Union, which show they take these terrible allegations very seriously. We will continue to closely follow up on these cases, and any others which emerge as the UN team on the ground continues its investigations.”
Georgia joined the EU military mission in the Central African Republic by sending there over 150 soldiers in June, 2014. Number of Georgian troops in the mission decreased to about 85 soldiers in December, 2014, who served there till March, 2015. After that Georgia was contributing five officers to the mission.
The Georgian MoD said in a statement that the allegations will be investigated “in great detail and in case such grave crimes are proven, perpetrators of such crimes will be brought to justice.”
It said that “every individual, who was under a direct obligation to investigate the facts and establish the truth of this matter in 2014, will be suspended from carrying out their professional duties” pending the investigation.
Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, told journalists on January 29 that suspension has applied to six people, including to Deputy Chief of the General Staff Col. Roman Jokhadze, who was in charge of overseeing Georgian troops in international missions.
“Today, after the report is published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, each and every one of those militaries participating in the mission will be treated as potential suspects,” the Georgian MoD said in the statement.
“They have families, and most of them have served their country and international security selflessly and with great integrity. This is the reason why it is unacceptable for the alleged actions of several individuals, in case these are proven, to shame the image and prestige of the Georgian Armed Forces. The Government of Georgia and first of all, the Georgian Armed Forces themselves, have been devoted to serving international peace and security missions over the course of [past] 17 years and will continue to do so in future, in their role as the most reliable and trusted partner for the democratic states of the world,” the MoD said.
“Pursuant to the above, it is our primary goal as the Ministry of Defence of Georgia to investigate the facts in the shortest time possible. In case these crimes are proven, specific individuals, who have taken such undignified actions for the Georgian Armed Forces, and insulted name and damaged reputation of the Georgian militaries, will be held responsible,” the Georgian MoD said.
Chief of the General Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Vakhtang Kapanadze, said: “Such actions committed no matter by whom, should be punished. Our goal is to carry out a thorough investigation and in the process we will cooperate with all the relevant agencies; we will spare no effort to establish the truth and if such [crimes] are proven, specific perpetrators will be punished.”