AFRICANGLOBE – Hustling, theft, sex tourism and worse. Allegations of rape by UN troops supposedly deployed to keep the peace have loosened tongues about their misconduct in Central Africa, a destitute nation already rife with sex crimes.
A 12,000-strong UN mission known as Minusca was deployed in one of the world’s five poorest countries a little over a year ago amid spiralling violence between pro-Christian and pro-Muslim militias threatening to cause a bloodbath.
But the mission has been plagued by more than 60 charges of misconduct including 13 cases of sexual abuse, nine of them involving victims as young as 3.
And in an unprecedented move last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired the force’s, saying “enough is enough”.
The UN chief has denounced sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping as a “cancer in our system” and vowed to name and shame countries that fail to take action against their accused soldiers.
“We simply have to find ways to prevent such odious acts being committed by any soldiers anywhere who are supposed to be protecting vulnerable populations,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said this week.
But in many parts of the Central African capital Bangui residents have nothing but bad words about the peacekeepers.
“You just have to get up early and walk along the side of the barracks to see the used condoms,” said a journalist who asked not to be named at the House of the Press and of Journalists that adjoins the UN barracks.
‘Rapes That Never Stop’
“They drive around day and night in big cars, and every day we count the dead, the heists and the rapes that never stop. They came to disarm men and have fun with their women,” said trader Albertine Nguengo at the southern Simbanza market.
“She’s perfectly right,” remarked Josiane, who was selling fritters. “They’re quick to act against minors, young girls and women, instead of pulling the trigger on robbers, people with guns, the ex-anti-Balaka (Christian vigilantes) and ex-Seleka (Muslim rebels).”
United Nations peacekeepers are going all over the world spreading AIDS even while they’re trying to bring peace. What a supreme irony.
— Maja (@vain_attestator) August 26, 2015
Pointing to a 4×4 carrying UN troops, Boniface Voyemade said: ” They’re hucksters, they sell everything: bottles of water, fuel, belts, commando knives, uniforms, shoes. They say they don’t earn enough.”
“With the profits of their sales, they’re out at night around the barracks, cruising for sex. Anything goes for them: petite, young, tall, mixed-race, clear-skinned, Black,” Simplice said at his cigarette stall.
Morocco, France and DRC are all following up on complaints against their soldiers in Minusca.
Like many poor nations across the continent however, sexual violence marred life in Central Africa long before the soldiers came.
The national penal code provides for jail terms of between one and five years for the rape of a minor, and many cases are brought to justice every year. But in many others, families prefer out-of-court settlements.
“Rape is not permitted among Muslims,” stressed sociologist Ali Mahamat, who said the community strongly feels the pain of the victims.
“Same thing with Christians. People who commit rape must be brought to justice because it’s a crime,” said Isabelle Moiona, a Roman Catholic. “Those who do it are criminals, we can’t compromise with them.”
Pay Off The Victim’s Family
In March, former tourism minister Romaric Vomitiade was accused, arrested, tried and sentenced to two years in prison for raping a minor but he fled to the neighbouring DRC which then extradited him.
“If Mr Vomitiade had given a little money to the parents (of the girl), he would still be part of the government,” said Bienvenu Pago, a jurist for whom rape is “above all a social phenomenon. Little girls, women are the object of degrading and inhuman behaviour, this being a consequence of poverty”.
Jean Niaka, a house painter, recounted how a 60-year-old had raped a girl of 11.
“Led to the chief of the district, he confessed to the facts, arguing that he did this to be able to marry her,” Niaka said.
“The family was ready to go along with his request. But some girls denounced him and he was stoned until the police intervened to free him and then arrest him – against the will of the victim’s elder sister!”
Sexual crimes were rampant in the violent post-coup conflict that wracked the nation in 2013-14, with both Seleka rebels who held power for 10 months and their anti-Balaka foes blamed for many rape cases countrywide.
The UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) told reporters it had registered more than 800 cases of sexual violence against minors last year. Nine in 10 of them were girls, but the numbers involve only cases brought to the attention of humanitarian authorities.