UN campaigns to stop sex assaults by DR Congo peacekeepers

Habibou Bangre
Members of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) on the back of a UN truck on October 23, 2014 in Beni (AFP Photo/Alain Wandimoyi)

Kinshasa (AFP) - The UN mission in the DR Congo launched a graphic campaign Monday aimed at preventing sexual abuse by its peacekeepers following a child rape scandal in the neighbouring Central African Republic.

The words "Sex with children is a crime" were splashed across images released for the campaign by MONUSCO, one of the world's largest peacekeeping missions.

The campaign comes after UN chief Ban Ki-moon sacked his Central African Republic mission chief after a string of allegations of child sex abuse by peacekeepers there.

The mission in the DR Congo has also been tainted by similar scandals.

In 2005, the UN banned peacekeepers from having relations with Congolese residents after allegations emerged that soldiers had sexually abused 13-year-old girls.

One campaign photo issued by MONUSCO shows a young African girl on a bed, hands over her face, with a UN blue helmet and uniform on the floor next to her.

"She could be your daughter. No sex with children!" says the accompanying text.

Another photo shows the shirtless back of a UN soldier, behind bars, with a bold red banner reading "Sex with children is a crime".

A MONUSCO source told AFP that the campaign was "planned well before" the scandal that led to Wednesday's sacking of the UN mission chief in the Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye.

The MINUSCA force in the troubled country, which took over from an African Union mission nearly a year ago, has been plagued by a series of scandals involving its soldiers.

So far, there have been 57 claims of misconduct, 11 of which possibly involve chid sex abuse.

The latest allegations revealed by Amnesty International involve a 12-year-old girl who told witnesses she was raped by a UN soldier during a search operation in Bangui this month.

"When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth," she told Amnesty.

The United States said last week it was "profoundly shocked" by the claims of abuse, calling for the perpetrators to be punished and warning that the allegations undermine the credibility of UN peacekeeping missions.

The DRC campaign photos, which have been issued on the MONUSCO website as well as social media, have already prompted reactions on Facebook.

"The new campaign against sexual violence is welcome, but it's a shame that it was needed, because the UN is supposed to protect, and not attack," said one comment by Facebook user Dali Mbala.

The peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo -- which has been riven by conflict for about two decades mainly in the east -- counts about 20,000 uniformed personnel.