For those of you I'm more familiar with, you'll know I'm a supporter of the United Nations and am secretariat *staff member* to American Model United Nations. my undergraduate degree in international political affairs largely dealt with this type of situations, and its one of the political situations that gets me riled up, not domestic politics like the Kerry/Bush war....
December 18, 2004
In Congo War, Even Peacekeepers Add to Horror
By MARC LACEY
BUNIA, Congo, Dec. 16 - In the corner of the tent where she says a soldier forced himself on her, Helen, a frail fifth grader with big eyes and skinny legs, remembers seeing a blue helmet.
The United Nations peacekeeper who tore off her clothes had used a cup of milk to lure her close, she said in her high-pitched voice, fidgeting as she spoke. It was her favorite drink, she said, but one her family could rarely afford. "I was so happy," she said.
After she gulped it down, the foreign soldier pulled Helen, a 12-year-old, into bed, she said. About an hour later, he gave her a dollar, put a finger to his lips and pushed her out of his tent, she said.
In this same eastern outpost, another United Nations peacekeeper, unable to communicate with a 13-year-old Swahili-speaking girl who walked past him, held up a cookie and gestured for her to draw near. As the girl, Solange, who recounted the incident with tears in her eyes the other day, reached for the cookie, the soldier reached for her. She, too, said she was raped.
The United Nations said recently that it had uncovered 150 allegations of sexual abuse committed by United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Congo, many of them here in Bunia where the population has already suffered horrendous atrocities committed by local fighters. The raping of women and girls is an all-too-common tactic in the war raging in Congo's eastern jungles involving numerous militia groups. In Bunia, a program run by Unicef has treated 2,000 victims of sexual violence in recent months. But it is not just the militia members who have been preying on the women. So, too, local women say, have some of the soldiers brought in to keep the peace.
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, said recently that there was "clear evidence that acts of gross misconduct have taken place" in the United Nations mission in Congo, which began in early 2000 and is known by its French acronym, Monuc. Mr. Annan added, "This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am absolutely outraged by it."
The number of cases may be impossible for United Nations investigators to determine precisely. Helen and Solange said in recent interviews that they had not told their stories even to their parents, never mind to United Nations officials. Rape carries a heavy stigma here, both girls made clear. They told their stories when approached by a reporter.
"I didn't tell my mother because she would beat me," said a grim-faced Solange, starring at the ground. Solange, a sixth-grade dropout, said she had no interest in visiting a health clinic or seeing one of the psychologists that Unicef has paid for to counsel the many rape victims in and around Bunia. If she seeks help, the girl said, her mother might find out.
Helen's mother is dead, and Helen did not dare tell her father for fear of a beating. She said she knew he would blame her for going near the soldiers in the first place and might even throw her out of the house.
Helen did go on her own to a health clinic soon after the assault because she said she hurt between her legs. The health worker gave her something to drink, which she paid for with the same dollar that the soldier had given her, she said.
"I was so afraid when he took my clothes off," Helen said, fidgeting with her dirty T-shirt. "I was quiet. I didn't say anything."
The allegations leveled against United Nations personnel in Congo include sex with underage partners, sex with prostitutes and rape, an internal United Nations investigation has found. Investigators said they found evidence that United Nations peacekeepers and civilian workers paid $1 to $3 for sex or bartered sexual relations for food or promises of employment. A confidential report prepared by Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, Jordan's ambassador to the United Nations, and dated Nov. 8, says the exploitation "appears to be significant, widespread and ongoing."
Violators described in the investigation, which continues, appear to come from around the globe. Fifty countries are represented among the 1,000 civilian employees and 10,800 soldiers who make up the United Nations mission in Congo. Already, a French civilian has been accused of having sex with a girl, though it is unclear where that case stands, and two Tunisian peacekeepers have been sent home, where the local authorities will decide whether to punish them.
The United Nations report details allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers from Nepal, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Uruguay, and lists incidents in which some soldiers tried to obstruct investigators.
When they arrive for duty, peacekeepers are presented with the United Nations code of conduct, which forbids "any exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex."
The home countries are responsible for punishing any of their military personnel who violate the code while taking part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission.
The United Nations, which has had previous scandals in missions in Cambodia and Bosnia, also warns the soldiers against sexual contact with girls under 18, even though the law in Congo permits sex with girls as young as 14.
The United Nations policy says that mistakenly believing someone is older "cannot be considered a defense." The youth of Helen and Solange cannot be mistaken. They said they were abused while selling bananas and avocados to soldiers. Each girl said she was among the girls and women who have flocked to the camps that peacekeepers have set up around Bunia. These two girls walked from tent to tent with fruit balanced on their heads, using gestures to make deals.
Helen would sell her fruit for 10 francs apiece, or a few cents, and would earn about $1 a day. She would give the money to her older sister.
Solange would trade her fruit for the small containers of milk issued to soldiers. She would then sell the milk in town, making about $1.50 a day. She used the money to help her family buy food.
Some of the girls and women who have entered the peacekeepers' camps concede that they had less-than-innocent intentions.
Judith and Saidati, both 15 and sexually experienced with Congolese boys, acknowledged that they were looking for foreign boyfriends as they sold their fruit.
The girls, who have the same father, said in a recent interview that they both found French boyfriends first, when the French Army controlled Bunia last year. Then they each found soldiers from Nepal, one of the countries supplying peacekeepers to the United Nations mission. After that, the girls spent time with soldiers from Morocco, who make up the bulk of the force now patrolling Bunia.
The girls said they each stuck to one soldier apiece and switched to new ones only when their boyfriends were transferred out. Each time they had sex, the soldiers gave them $5, they said. Sometimes, they got other gifts, too, they said.
One day, however, after their latest boyfriends had gone, a social worker visited them and told them of the dangers of having sex with soldiers. The woman sat them down and told them about AIDS and the other sexually transmitted diseases they might get. "She told us not to go anywhere near the soldiers," said Judith, who like the other girls agreed to be identified only by her first name. "She said we're still young and they might make our lives short."
The two half sisters said the social worker's words frightened them, and they said they had not had any boyfriends for the last few months. But they also acknowledged that fewer Moroccan soldiers were propositioning them, reducing their temptation. The soldiers' new commander is keeping a closer eye on them, the girls said. "They want to come to us but their chief is watching them," Judith said.
Judith and Saidati said they wanted the soldiers to remain in Bunia for many years. The girls said the United Nations troops had succeeded in stabilizing the town, which was a war zone just over a year ago. The foreigners also have much more money to spend than local boys, the girls said.
"I like them," said Judith, smiling coyly.
"They treat us so nice," added Saidati, who was beaming.
But the two younger girls, Helen and Solange, were far more sober when they spoke of the foreign troops. They said they stopped selling fruit at the military camp immediately after they were attacked and had never been back. They said they had trouble sleeping at night and could not forget what the soldiers did to them.
"Whenever I see one of them, I remember what happened," said Helen, who lives near a military checkpoint operated by soldiers wearing blue helmets just like the one she remembers seeing in the tent. "I'm afraid of them."
Once you take that blue helmet and you sign off on that code of conduct, you're an example to the world, and a represenatative to your own country not to do this type of shit. Unfortunately, the raping of young women is prevelant throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and is certainly not contained in Congo. However, this type of event is usually more seen with interior forces, or bilateral forces usually involved both in peace keeping from the African Union, and opposing forces. more later... this just pisses me off *grrrr*