The UN's rape in the Congo

NY Times:

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.


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