Over 1,700 UN peacekeepers have been accused of raping the vulnerable people they’re supposed to protect – and now a harrowing documentary reveals the victims’ agonising stories and their desperate fight for justice. VALERIE was just 14 when she says she was raped by a French peacekeeper working for the United Nations.”He’d pass when I was selling bananas,” she says. “He told me he loved me and took me to a hotel. The first time he gave me $2. The second time it was $5. Another time, $15.
“I was young. I felt very bad because he was my father’s age. There were others. Lots of us were looking for him. None of us ever found him.”
The French logistics manager who allegedly raped her was helping to run the UN operation in the Congolese city of Goma – the site of one the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world. Valerie’s case sounds uniquely terrible, but the truth is that there are thousands more who say they too were the victims of sex crimes by UN peacekeepers. Drafted from soldiers in each member state’s national army, peacekeepers are the troops sent in by the UN to bring order and stability to the most war-torn corners of the globe.
However, UN peacekeepers have been dogged by over 1,700 separate sex crime accusations in the past 15 years.
While there has been condemnation of high-profile abuse cases, there are fears that sexual violence against children has become endemic in areas where peacekeepers are supposed to be the ones enforcing the law.
Despite the high number of reported cases (and the many more which are thought to go unreported) only 53 uniformed peacekeepers have ever been sent to jail for sexual offences.It’s an outrage reminiscent of the ongoing charity abuse scandal, only with an ever greater scale and an ever deeper sense of depravity on behalf of the abusers.And, as a new Channel 4 documentary reveals, decades of alleged abuse have resulted in victims being abandoned without justice while the perpetrators walk free.
Top UN official Anthony Bambury resigned in protest after a series of alleged abuse cases came to his attention.
“The reality is that today there is no guarantee of criminal accountability for someone who commits rape inside a UN peacekeeping mission,” he says in the doc. This will sound familiar to young Valerie, who is thought to be a victim of Didier Bourget, the only civilian peacekeeper to ever be jailed for sex crimes while working overseas for the UN.
In 2004, Bourguet caught in a sting and found to have paid go-betweens to provide young girls for him to have sex with. He was charged with rape of 20 girls, but a French judge said there was only evidence to convict of raping 2 minors. Now a free man, living homeless in a wood in the South of France, he admits on camera to having sex with “about 20 or 25” children in the Congo.
“Because we had money it was easy,” he says on a new documentary. “We just had to give money or buy something. They were starving so it was easy. The children were 15, 14, 16. Everybody knew that some of the UN civilian staff had intercourse with young ladies for money.”
At the time, the UN promised Bourguet’s victims that they would find and support them.
But nobody ever spoke to Valerie about her ordeal.
Peacekeepers are not immune to prosecution, and they are accountable to the laws of their home country while they are on overseas missions. However, there’s no internal UN justice system which can bring charges against them, leading to confusion and often inaction when they are accused of committing crimes in far-flung parts of the globe. Sex abuse claims against peacekeepers have been levelled from all corners of the developing world, but the heart of Africa has been shown to be the focal point of much of the violence. As well as troops in the Congo, peacekeepers in the Central African Republic have also been accused of unspeakable atrocities – but, unlike Bourguet, few have been brought to justice.
The country was nearly torn apart by a civil war in 2013 and, fearing a genocide by one of the militia factions, the UN sent in its peacekeepers – often called Blue Berets on account of the uniform. Around 500,000 residents in the capital, Bangui, were made homeless, and lived in a makeshift tent city, which UN forces were tasked with policing. Among the residents under their protection was Daniella, a refugee who was just ten when a group of peacekeepers raped her.
Word of the abuse spread to a UN human rights worker who interviewed six children, including four alleged victims, in May 2014. Her report alleged that 14 French peacekeepers had been implicit in sexually assaulting the children, with four soldiers directly identifiable because of their tattoos and physical features.
The response from the UN was a deafening silence.
“The UN treated this as though it were another report from the field,” says Paula Donovan, who held senior positions within the UN for years.
Paula, who set up the charity Code Blue, which campaigns for more accountability for UN workers accused of sex crimes, adds that the report was just bounced between inboxes without anyone acting on it.It took a leak to the media before the UN responded with an investigation – almost a year after the crimes happened.Since the accused soldiers were French, it fell to French prosecutors to deliver justice to the perpetrators in central Africa.
However, after a three year investigation, judges threw out the charges against the four identified soldiers, claiming the children’s testimony was “inconsistent”.
Meanwhile, an investigation by the UN concluded that “abuses of authority” had allowed the damning report to be left without being acted on.