NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The United Nations on Monday identified and referred for punishment dozens of peacekeepers accused in a slew of sexual assaults of refugees in the Central African Republic.
The identifications follow a months-long investigation, started in April, into reports that peacekeepers in the African nation sexually assaulted women and children in 2014 and 2015.
Officials reported their findings at U.N. headquarters in New York City on Monday.
The joint investigation, started in March, looked into reports by dozens of women in the turbulent African nation who claimed they were raped and assaulted by peacekeepers who were responsible for their guard. More than two dozen children also claimed they were assaulted.
"The investigators relied primarily on the testimony of possible victims and witnesses, given the lack of medical, forensic or any other physical evidence," spokeswoman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement Monday. "This was due to the fact that the majority of the allegations referred to incidents that took place a year or more earlier. Everyone who came forward with claims, both minors and adults, were assisted by national and international partners."
The Office of Internal Oversight Services interviewed nearly 150 complainants -- all of whom reported sexual abuse in Dekoa, Kemo prefecture of the Central African Republic within the last two years.
Some women acknowledged their abusers through photographs and other evidence, and 41 total soldiers -- 25 from Burundi and 16 from Gabon -- were identified as attackers, according to the office of the secretary general.
"The United Nations has shared the OIOS report with both Member States, including the names of the identified alleged perpetrators and has requested for appropriate judicial actions to ensure criminal accountability," Dujarric said. "The alleged perpetrators, if allegations against them are substantiated, and, if warranted, their commanding officers, will not be accepted again for deployment in peacekeeping operations."
The accused peacekeepers were rotated out of the Central African Republic before the allegations surfaced, officials said.
Peacekeepers have been patrolling in the country for three years to protect citizens and refugees from violence between warring factions there.
Some of the claims were deemed unreliable, but most may result in criminal action against the troops. It will be up to authorities in Gabon and Burundi to investigate and punish the accused perpetrators.
"The United Nations has requested from the Burundian and Gabonese authorities that they review the OIOS findings and conduct the interviews of the alleged perpetrators who had all been rotated out from Central African Republic before the allegations surfaced," Dujarric added.
"The United Nations condemns, in the strongest terms, all acts of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by peacekeepers or any other UN personnel and will maintain follow up so that perpetrators of these abhorrent acts are brought to justice."