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The Tally Ho

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

In Congo War, Even Peacekeepers Add to Horror

First, if you haven't already scanned it, check out the The Human Rights Watch Global Report On Women's Human Rights. I finally got around to clearing out my email boxes and I found this article by Marc Lacey. It is about a week old, but that does not make it any less horrifying.
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."

I wish I could say that I am shocked to see "peacekeepers" and "rape" in the same sentence, but unforunately I am not. The UN admits similar instances in Bosnia, Cambodia, Nepal, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Uruguay. Also discussed in the article is how common it is for soliders and local girls to have a sexual relationships for money and gifts. HIV was not a concern, for these 15 year olds, until a social worker discussed the dangers with them.

Watch the Amnesty International's Movie to support their campaign to stop violence against women.

In faux news, the Onion reports that Nigeria is set to host the 2008 Genocides.
"Nigeria is excited for this chance to follow in the footsteps of Somalia, Rwanda, and Sudan," Obasanjo said. "Much work remains to be done, but all of the building blocks are in place. Nigeria has many contentious ethnic groups, a volatile economy, and a dependence on food imports. We are well on our way to making 2008 a genocidal year to remember in Nigeria!"


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