BUNIA, Congo (AP) — The girl was only 11 when the first peacekeeper raped her, luring her with bread and a banana as she was leaving school in her village in northeastern Congo.
“It was the first man who ever touched me,” said Bora, who asked that only her first name be used because she is a rape victim. The rape left her pregnant, and she gave birth to a son.
She was 13 when the second peacekeeper raped her. She once again got pregnant, and became a mother twice over while she was still a child herself.
Bora’s case is grimly emblematic of the underbelly of U.N. peacekeeping, and the organization as a whole: In a yearlong investigation, the AP found that despite promises of reform for more than a decade, the U.N. failed to meet many of its pledges to stop the abuse or help victims, some of whom have been lost to a sprawling bureaucracy. Cases have disappeared, or have been handed off to the peacekeepers’ home countries — which often do nothing with them.
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If the U.N. sexual abuse crisis has an epicenter, it is Congo, where the overall scale of the scandal first emerged 13 years ago – and where the promised reforms have most clearly fallen short. Of the 2,000 sexual abuse and exploitation complaints made against the U.N. worldwide over the past 12 years, more than 700 occurred in Congo. The embattled African nation hosts the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force, costing a staggering $1 billion a year. The mission is so problematic, the U.S. ambassador the U.N., Nikki Haley, has threatened to cut off funds for it and others like it.
With rare exception, the victims interviewed by the AP in Congo got no help. Instead, many are banished from their families for having mixed-race children – who also are shunned, becoming a second generation of victims. Of the 2,000 allegations, about a quarter involved children. Some years, in fact, offenses involving children accounted for nearly half of the allegations, including rape offenses.
To this day, the violence continues: Congo already accounts for nearly one-third of the 43 allegations made worldwide so far in 2017.
Peter Gallo, a former investigator at the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight, blames a bureaucratic, inefficient agency for the enduring crisis.
“The U.N. system is essentially protecting the perpetrators of these crimes, and what is happening is that the U.N. is exploiting and is complicit in the exploitation of the very people that the organization was set up to protect.”
The need for reform is evident in the case of a 14-year-old orphan girl who says she was raped by a Pakistani peacekeeper on the same day a high-level U.N. delegation was paying a visit to Bunia in 2004.
It was an attack so brazen it still haunts the U.N.’s top human rights official more than a decade after hearing the girl’s story.
“What on earth would it take for this soldier not to do it – to have all the heads of the U.N. together, and he still does it?” asked Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, a member of the delegation that heard the girl’s testimony in 2004. One year later, Zeid, now the U.N. human rights commissioner, helped write a landmark report on sexual abuse within the U.N. ranks.
Zeid says the U.N. needs to do much, much more — especially for victims.
“We set up a trust fund. It should have been flush with money,” he said, “But more than a decade later, it’s still in the planning stages.”
The fund has accumulated only half a million dollars.
Neither Zeid’s outrage nor his 2005 report, however, helped the 14-year-old orphan. The U.N. had no record of her, saying only that a similar incident was later considered “unsubstantiated” at the time because the girl identified the wrong foreigner in a photo lineup. It didn’t know what became of her.
But in just three days last month, the AP found a woman whose story closely matched Zeid’s description. She was inebriated and living in poverty, the daughter born as a result of the assault now cared for by relatives. The victim, now 27, said she received no help from the U.N. after her child was born.
The adoptive mother of that child, Dorcas Zawadi, refuses to allow the girl near U.N. bases.
“The peacekeepers try to distract the girls with cookies, candy and milk to rape them,” she told the AP.
Dodds reported from several towns and cities in Haiti, Geneva and London. Jamey Keaten reported from Geneva, Kathy Gannon from Islamabad, Pakistan, Angela Charlton from Paris and Katy Daigle from New Delhi. Associated Press writers Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro in Mavivi, Congo, and Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo, contributed to this report.