Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Little help for survivors of Central African Republic abuses

Published:Thursday | April 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this December 2015 file photo, Judge Marie Deschamps (left) of Canada, chair of the Independent Review Panel on UN Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Foreign Military Forces in the Central African Republic, is joined by panel member Hassan Jallow at a news conference at the United Nations.

BANGUI (AP):

The peacekeepers motioned to the teenage girl weaving through the sprawling camp in the baking afternoon sun selling bananas from a plate atop her head. Soon their real intentions were clear: They yanked her inside their tent and began unbuttoning their pants.

Just 16 years old, she cried and pleaded with them to let her go, telling them she was menstruating, in hopes it would dissuade them. Then three men gang-raped her one by one. As she trembled on the ground afterwards in fear, they laughed and ate the bananas on her plate. Then they shouted at her to leave.

The attack she recounts from that day did not kill her, but the torment and stigma that followed just might, she said. A few of her peers saw what happened and it wasn't long before the taunts began, unspeakably cruel even when coming from the mouths of children. They still call her 'Miss Sangaris', a reference to the name of the French peacekeeping mission that implies she is the soldiers' girlfriend.

She has never reported to any authorities what happened to her that day, even the very sight of another peacekeeper walking by sends her stomach into knots, she said.

As the UN and various countries come under growing criticism for sexual abuse by peacekeepers, the stories of survivors in the M'Poko camp and elsewhere suggest the problem could be far larger than previously known. Such survivors have never been interviewed by authorities because of the hesitancy of victims to come forward and the lack of resources for canvassing parts of the Central African Republic.

The UN alone has already reported it is now investigating more than 100 cases here in Central African Republic, where violence exploded in late 2013.