French Police to Investigate New Abuse Claims Against Former UN Peacekeeper
Valerie, a young woman in the Central African Republic, told FRONTLINE that she was sexually abused as a child by former United Nations peacekeeper Didier Bourguet. (PBS FRONTLINE)
Prosecutors in France have asked the police to investigate the claims of a woman interviewed by FRONTLINE, who said she had been sexually abused as a girl by a former United Nations peacekeeper who has already been convicted for the rape of two minors while on duty.
The woman told FRONTLINE in the documentary UN Sex Abuse Scandal that she was abused by the civilian peacekeeper, Didier Bourguet, in 2004 while he was stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was 14 years old at the time. Bourguet was a 40-year
–old French national in charge of transport and logistics at the UN peacekeeping mission in Goma.
“He used to pass by every so often and saw me selling bananas,” the woman, whose first name is Valerie, told FRONTLINE. “When he told me that he loved me, he took me to Hotel Linda for the first time.”
She said Bourguet, who earned $7,000 a month while working for the UN, gave her money in exchange for sex. “The first time he gave me $2. The second time… $5. Another time… $15. I was still very young. I felt very bad because he was as old as my father,” she told FRONTLINE correspondent Ramita Navai.
Over a span of six months, Valerie said she had regular contact with Bourguet — until the day she went to see him and he was nowhere to be found. At that point, she realized other women and girls were also looking for him. “Yes, there were others,” she said, adding: “None of us ever found him.”
Bourguet was ultimately arrested by the Congolese police in Goma in a sting operation, and handed over to the French authorities on charges that he raped at least 20 young girls, some as young as 12 years old. Valerie was not one of the alleged victims at that time.
Bourguet admitted the rapes to French authorities, and confirmed them again in a recent interview after FRONTLINE tracked him down in the south of France. “I would say about 20. Twenty, 25, I didn’t count. Most of it was in Congo,” he said. He said that he also had sex with about 60 to 80 women. He said he had no recollection of Valerie or her specific allegations, but did admit to having sex with a girl her age in Goma.
The Bourguet case caused a global scandal, prompting the UN to promise additional reforms. In addition to sexually abusing young girls, Bourguet also photographed his victims while having sex with them. Congolese officials told ABC that they suspected he shared those images with others in the UN.
In 2008, a French judge ruled there was only enough evidence to convict him for the rape of two minors. Bourget was sentenced by a French court to nine years in prison. He has since been released. When FRONTLINE interviewed him, he was homeless and storing his belongings in the nearby woods.
Bourguet remains the only civilian peacekeeper to have been jailed for sexual abuse while working abroad for the UN. He described a culture of UN workers having sex with prostitutes, young women and children.
“Because we had money it was really easy,” he said. “We just had to give money to buy something and of course they were starving so of course… that is why it’s easy, it was easy.”
Valerie said she only told her mother about Bourguet, and never reported the incident to the UN.
“This brings back memories of what happened to me,” said Valerie, who didn’t know that Bourguet had been arrested. “Such heartache and pain remembering what I went through.”
With Valerie’s permission, FRONTLINE questioned French prosecutors about her allegations and they referred the matter to the police for investigation. Valerie’s allegations fall within the statute of limitations, and could potentially lead to a new case against the former peacekeeper.
While William Swing, then the UN’s head of mission in Congo, promised in 2005 to find and support Bourguet’s alleged victims, Valerie wasn’t contacted until FRONTLINE, again with permission, brought her case to UN officials.
Adama Ndao, the head of the conduct and discipline unit at the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that attempts to trace Bourguet’s victims had been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Valerie is still dealing with trauma from the abuse. “My heart is not content,” she said. “This person has ruined my life.”
—Ramita Navai and Sam Collyns contributed reporting.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Valerie’s home country. It is the Democratic Republic of Congo. The story has been updated to reflect the change.