Transcript

UN Sex Abuse Scandal

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ANNIE, 13 years old at the time:

[subtitles] My life in the village was a good life. The problems started when the rebels arrived. They killed my mom. And they killed my dad. And they raped me.

RAMITA NAVAI, Correspondent:

Annie lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country torn apart by warring factions. Four years, ago after seeing her parents murdered by rebels, she says she was gang-raped. She then fled for her life.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Annie, what happened after you left your village?

ANNIE:

[subtitles] The government soldiers came. They rounded us up and raped us.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Then Annie says she met a United Nations peacekeeper from South Africa. He’d been sent as part of a mission to protect the local population.

ANNIE:

[subtitles] I was with my friends when I met him. He took me to one side and told me he’d pay me. Then he raped me and gave me a dollar. He told me he was going to help me but he didn’t. I never saw him again.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Annie, why did you think this soldier would be different?

ANNIE:

[subtitle] He was white.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Annie’s story is not unique. She’s one of over 2,000 young women and children alleged to have been sexually exploited or abused by UN peacekeepers -- uniformed and civilian -- in missions around the world since the early 1990s. From Cambodia to Mozambique and from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For over a decade the United Nations has been trying to end the abuse. But even today, it keeps happening. In the past year, the UN has introduced new measures to stamp it out. I’ve come to Africa to try and understand why the problem has persisted.

RAMITA NAVAI, Correspondent:

We’re right in the middle of Africa in an area that’s been at the epicenter of sexual abuse allegations against the UN.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Democratic Republic of Congo has more alleged victims than any other country. It’s here my investigation begins.

2000

RAMITA NAVAI:

Almost 20 years ago, UN peacekeepers were stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid a bloody civil war.

In 2004, Valerie says she met a member of the UN mission in the city of Goma.

VALERIE, 14 years old at the time:

[subtitles] He used to pass by and saw me selling bananas. When he told me that he loved me, he took me to Hotel Linda for the first time. The first time, he gave me two dollars. The second time, five dollars. Another time, 15 dollars. I was still young. I felt very bad because he was as old as my father.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Didier Bourguet was working at the UN peacekeeping mission in Goma, in charge of transport and logistics, earning $7,000 a month. He was 40 at the time.

VALERIE:

[subtitles] I was with him for about six months. One day when I went to see him, I was told he was no longer there.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Valerie says she only told her mother about Bourguet and they never reported it to the UN.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Do you know if Didier was doing this to anyone else?

VALERIE:

[subtitles] Yes, there were others. When I went back, I realized there were many of us looking for him. None of us ever found him.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Investigators would later discover Bourguet paid go-betweens to provide young girls for him. He was arrested by the Congolese police in Goma after a sting operation in October 2004, before being handed over to French authorities and charged with rape.

Bourguet was not the only UN employee accused of sexual misconduct. There were 72 allegations of exploitation and abuse in the UN’s Congo mission between May and September 2004.

KOFI ANNAN, UN Secretary-General, 1997-2006:

All of this is utterly immoral and completely at odds with our mission.

RAMITA NAVAI:

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent his special advisor, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, to investigate. He was shocked by what he found.

ZEID RA-AD AL HUSSEIN, Advisor to Secretary-General, 2004-2006:

Sitting and listening to what victims were saying was really disturbing. I said it was akin to a lifeguard jumping into a pool and instead of saving someone who was drowning to actually drown them, almost. I mean it, it seemed to be as cruel as that.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Five months later, Zeid published a report that criticized the UN’s own investigations into alleged sexual abuse. But he said the main reason offenders often evaded justice was that the UN had no criminal jurisdiction over its peacekeepers.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN:

The UN is not a sovereign body. At the most, the UN can dismiss someone from service but it could not conduct its own trials. That is for the governments themselves to do. And if the member state does nothing or shields the individual, then impunity exists. So it was these sorts of issues which I found, I, I found astonishing at the time.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Those issues had also caught the attention of Anthony Banbury, who spent more than 20 years inside the UN overseeing relief and peacekeeping missions.

ANTHONY BANBURY, UN Assistant Secretary-General, 2014-2016:

The fundamental issue in all these cases of sexual exploitation and abuse is criminal accountability. That’s the only thing that really matters. Someone who rapes a, a, a woman, a girl, should go to jail. If they don’t go to jail, nothing else matters.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Zeid’s report tried to address this. For military peacekeepers, he recommended that member states hold courts-martial in the country, making it easier to access witnesses and evidence. For civilian peacekeepers, he recommended an international agreement to ensure those accused of abuse would face criminal prosecution. But there’s been no widespread effort by UN member states to adopt the measures.

ANTHONY BANBURY:

It is very simply the truth that the decision-making authority rests with member states. It rests with the 193 governments of the United Nations. And the UN Secretariat, the civil servants working in that headquarters on First Avenue, cannot impose on the member states a new judicial system.

ABC News

NEWSCASTER:

Now an investigation that is sure to send shock waves around the world...

RAMITA NAVAI:

By early 2005, the international media had got hold of the Didier Bourguet story.

NEWSCASTER:

Scores of young girls in the Congo were somehow lured into sex with a senior UN logistics officer named Didier Bourguet.

RAMITA NAVAI:

French authorities charged Bourguet with the possession of hundreds of child pornographic images and the rape of at least 20 young girls in Congo. Despite the many allegations, the French judge ruled there was only enough evidence to convict him of the rape of two minors and sentenced him to nine years in jail.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Valerie, how do you feel now that you know that Didier has been punished for what he did to children in Congo?

VALERIE:

[subtitles] This brings back memories of what happened to me. Such heartache and pain remembering what I went through.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Bourguet is the exception, not the rule. He remains the only civilian peacekeeper to have been jailed for sexual abuse while working abroad for the UN. Most civilian peacekeepers don’t even end up in court. And to this day, member states have resisted the proposals aimed at changing that.

ISOBEL COLEMAN, US Ambassador to UN for Management and Reform, 2014-2017:

The UN itself doesn’t have the ability to try these people. It is dependent on the home country to try. And the home country often doesn’t have the ability to collect the evidence or to have a, a, a process and that’s, that’s a, a catastrophic loophole.

RAMITA NAVAI:

After the scandal in Congo, and despite the UN’s attempts to deal with the issue, allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse continued in peacekeeping missions around the world. South Sudan, Ivory Coast, Haiti. And the Central African Republic -- the next stop on my journey.

In late 2013, the president of the Central African Republic had been deposed and rival militias were battling for power.

To stop a potential genocide, France sent peacekeepers under a UN Security Council mandate. Their mission was named Operation Sangaris.

Half a million people had been made homeless. Many sought refuge in a camp by the airport, run by the French.

I met a girl who’d fled to that refugee camp. Her name is Daniella. We’re protecting her identity.

DANIELLA, 10 years old at the time:

[subtitles] We didn’t have food to eat so I was sent to the market to buy some vegetables to cook and eat. I started heading to the market. Around the corner they called me to offer me water to drink. They grabbed me and took me inside the house. After they took me inside and took my clothes off, they threw me down, had sex with me, then took me outside and told me to go.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Can you describe the men to me? What did they look like?

DANIELLA:

[subtitles] They were tall and had snake tattoos on their bodies.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Daniella says two French soldiers raped her inside the airport camp. Her father told us she was bleeding heavily and he took her to a charity-run medical center where she was given antibiotics. But they didn’t know what more they could do.

DANIELLA:

[subtitles] People started talking about it. And wherever I went, people who saw me said, “That’s the Sangaris girl.”

RAMITA NAVAI:

Daniella’s family didn’t report her rape so it remained unrecorded by the UN.

I also met a boy who asked to be called Alexi. He was at the same camp and says he was abused by French peacekeepers, too.

ALEXI, 15 years old at the time:

[subtitles] They started sending us to buy things for them -- sugar, tomatoes, cakes, cucumbers and salads. That’s how it started. They gave the kids rations and asked them to suck their genitals. Whenever they wanted to do that, they would ask them to perform oral sex when there were no adults around. Those rations were not even good. They were their leftovers.

RAMITA NAVAI speaking French:

[subtitles] I want to know if the men were black or white or both?

ALEXI:

[subtitle] Six white soldiers and four black ones.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Word of the abuse soon spread around the camp. When the news reached the local UN mission, it sent one of its human rights investigators to interview six children, four of whom were alleged victims. The other two were witnesses. The investigator compiled an internal report based on the children’s testimony. The report detailed allegations against around 20 peacekeepers, some of whom were identified from their tattoos and other physical descriptions.

PAULA DONOVAN, Code Blue NGO:

There were a number of absolutely stunning revelations. Just reading this, it can’t have been more than six pages long.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Paula Donovan held senior positions within the UN over a number of years. She set up Code Blue to campaign against UN sex abuse.

PAULA DONOVAN:

The United Nations treated this as though it were simply another report from the field, and for months and months they just went, went about their business without addressing it in any way.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Almost a year after the alleged abuse, news of the report leaked to the international media. The UN secretary-general set up an independent enquiry to examine what had gone wrong. A decade on from Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein’s report, the new enquiry was even more damning.

MARIE DESCHAMPS, Chair, Independent Review:

This was a serious failure. Most importantly, the lack of coordination between policies leaves most victims unattended and vulnerable.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The enquiry said this amounted to an “abuse of authority” on the part of three top UN officials. And the UN fired the head of mission in the Central African Republic. Isobel Coleman was a US ambassador to the UN at the time.

ISOBEL COLEMAN:

I must say from my perspective as a diplomat, looking at this all unfolding, it seemed that it was not a high watermark for the UN, to put it mildly. It’s incredible to me that people had that report in their hands and didn’t act upon it.

RAMITA NAVAI:

By now the French prosecutors were investigating the allegations. In May 2015, they launched a full-scale criminal enquiry into the rape of minors. The investigation centered on four members of the 152nd Infantry Regiment who’d been identified by the victims. Nicknamed the Red Devils, the regiment is based in Colmar in the east of France. A 30-foot statue honors them in their hometown. But after more than three years examining the claims, the prosecutors finally threw out the case against the four soldiers. They said the testimony of the children was inconsistent and questioned whether they might have been manipulated by adults seeking financial compensation from the French.

MARIE GRIMAUD, Innocence in Danger NGO:

[subtitles] I don’t agree with the investigating judges. A fellow lawyer and I have analyzed these hearings. When you put them all together -- the children’s testimonies, the soldiers’ testimonies, the photos of the military camp -- all the evidence is there.

RAMITA NAVAI:

One of the reasons the case was dismissed is that the French investigators found, I’m quoting, “contradictions and implausibilities.” What are they referring to?

MARIE GRIMAUD:

These children didn’t contradict themselves. But some of them may have given some slight differences regarding skin color, for example. For some, the skin of the soldiers is lighter than theirs, so they will describe them as white. For others, the skin will be darker than theirs and they’ll describe that person as black. It’s not a contradiction.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Marie Grimaud is appealing the decision to abandon the case against the soldiers.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The boy that we spoke to hadn’t spoken to French investigators. So actually his name shouldn’t be...

RAMITA NAVAI:

I told her the boy Alexi’s story and also asked her about the soldiers who Daniella says raped her.

RAMITA NAVAI:

She gave us description of where it happened and of the soldiers. So she said that one of them was white, had a snake tattoo. Have you got a description of a man like this?

MARIE GRIMAUD:

[subtitles] Yes, we’ve got that description. The snake tattoo... this soldier, who has not been interviewed, has a dragon tattoo. In this case, there are tattoos, but there are also children who were able to describe moles in very intimate places, with bruises on nails, particular details about the teeth. So there were many specifics given by the children. We’ve requested that the soldier who matches your evidence be interrogated but our request was denied.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The French military declined to speak to us about the allegations or put us in touch with any of the accused soldiers from the 152nd Regiment. We tried to interview the prosecutors but they also declined, saying the appeal against their ruling is still being considered.

RAMITA NAVAI:

How do you feel about the men that did this to you?

DANIELLA:

[subtitles] All I want to say is that they need to be brought to justice. That’s all I have to tell you.

PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Head of UN Mission, Central African Republic:

[subtitle] The time for silence is over.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In response to the French scandal, in the summer of 2015, the UN appointed a new head of peacekeeping in the Central African Republic to replace his predecessor.

PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA:

I found a, a very demoralized staff. They were all, you know, in shock. We were just realizing, open our eyes to a very big, you know, scandal, call it. Let’s call it a scandal.

RAMITA NAVAI:

A new commander of troops followed that November.

GEN. BALLA KEITA, UN Force Commander, Central African Republic:

We realized that something had to be done and fast enough to stop this because it’s just, it was just so shameful for all of us.

Sexual exploitation and abuse was about to kill peace operations and particularly our mission. To kill us with, really not bullets like the armed group, but with shame.

Bambari, Central African Republic

RAMITA NAVAI:

Even as the UN struggled with the abuse scandal, fighting in the Central African Republic was spiraling out of control. It was particularly desperate in the town of Bambari, around 250 miles north of the capital. Tens of thousands had fled their homes to escape killings and rapes by militias. The UN needed to get more peacekeepers on the ground fast.

ISOBEL COLEMAN, US Ambassador to UN for Management and Reform, 2014-2017:

If you’re in a crisis situation and you’re, you, you think you’ve got genocide erupting in the Central African Republic and you’re looking for troops to come and save tens, hundreds of thousands of lives, you know, maybe you’re not asking so many questions about how they’ve been vetted and what their, you know, training has been on sexual exploitation and abuse. You want troops on the ground yesterday, you know, to save lives.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Facing an emergency, the UN deployed around 800 Congolese soldiers who were already stationed nearby. But the Congolese army had recently been accused by the UN of rape and sexual violence against its own population.

RAMITA NAVAI:

What did you think of Congolese troops serving as peacekeepers knowing that Congolese troops came from the army that has a terrible record for human rights abuses?

ANTHONY BANBURY, UN Assistant Secretary-General, 2014-2016:

I believe it was a mistake to put the troops from the DRC into the UN mission in CAR (Central African Republic).

RAMITA NAVAI:

Anthony Banbury was in charge of field support to peacekeepers. He says he expressed concerns about the Congolese soldiers at the time, but had no direct say in the decision to deploy them.

ANTHONY BANBURY:

If there are allegations that a unit that has been deployed to a peacekeeping mission has been involved in human rights abuses back home, that’s a, a huge cause for concern, a huge red flag and should be immediately investigated.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Congolese troops pacified Bambari but left new allegations of sexual violence and exploitation in their wake.

MANDA:

[subtitles] I was going to Waka market in order to buy cassava flour for cooking. It was then that he grabbed me by force.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Manda, the name she asked us to use, was an 11-year-old schoolgirl at the time.

MANDA:

[subtitles] I was wearing a nice dress. I don’t know why he chose me. After he had sex with me, he gave me money. He told me not to talk about it.

It was in the second month that I got pregnant. He didn’t do anything. Two weeks later a big truck came, picked them up and they left. I thought it was a joke, but they were gone for good.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Manda told her mother but they didn’t report the rape to the UN. But towards the end of 2015, many new allegations began to emerge against troops from five different peacekeeping nations, including the Congolese.

January 2016

RAMITA NAVAI:

The UN official breaking the news to the press was Anthony Banbury.

ANTHONY BANBURY:

It’s hard to imagine the outrage that people working for the United Nations and for the causes of peace and security feel when these kinds of allegations come to light.

RAMITA NAVAI:

A week later, on the fifth of February 2016, he resigned, saying that the UN was failing its mission.

ANTHONY BANBURY:

I worked on it for six years and on the one hand I was very proud of it. But the bottom line was there was still a big lack of criminal accountability and that was personally very distressing.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The UN responded to the abuse scandals in the Central African Republic by publicizing the names of countries whose troops were accused of abuses and passed a resolution giving the secretary-general the right to send peacekeepers home. By the end of February, the contingent from the Democratic Republic of Congo had been expelled.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

RAMITA NAVAI:

Two months later, in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, 14 soldiers were put on trial for rape. The hearing took place in a courtroom set up in the prison grounds and filmed by news crews at the time.

HEARING FOOTAGE:

[subtitle] Using violence, they had sexual intercourse with a girl.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But the trial has stalled and there have only been two brief hearings in over two years. Government officials told us they couldn’t afford to fly in witnesses to give evidence.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Congolese authorities say they’re serious about trying their peacekeepers. But the process is dragging on two years and counting. And here’s where the system consistently fails. The UN says it’s up to the countries that contribute troops to punish perpetrators, but that rarely happens.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The alleged rapists remain locked up awaiting trial. Meanwhile, victims are left waiting, too.

MANDA:

[subtitles] I called him twice. He kept saying that he was going to come back for his child. It’s been over two years, the child is walking, and he hasn’t come yet.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In January 2017, a new secretary-general took office -- António Guterres. He announced that fighting sexual abuse was a top priority.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, UN Secretary-General:

We are determined to ensure that the voices of victims are heard. Victims must be at the center of our response if we want our zero-tolerance policy to be successful.

October 2017

RAMITA NAVAI:

Guterres introduced a new role of Victims’ Rights Advocate. And he made an early visit to the Central African Republic.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES:

We know that the good work and the tremendous sacrifice of peacekeepers around the world has been tarnished by the appalling acts of some UN personnel who have harmed the people they were meant to serve.

RAMITA NAVAI:

When we were in the Central African Republic soon afterwards, the UN invited us to see their latest attempts to deal with the problem, not just sexual abuse but what they call exploitation.

RAMITA NAVAI:

So we’re on this night patrol with the UN military police. And they’re going round from barracks to barracks mostly checking that soldiers are observing the curfew and also checking that there are no women and children anywhere near the barracks. Although to be honest, you can see it’s a really big convoy and I’d be really surprised if there were any women or children anywhere near the barracks because you can see them from a mile away.

UN MILITARY POLICE:

[subtitles] Any childs in front of your camp?

No, sir.

What about the womens?

There are no womens here.

Your guys are all right with the SEA cases?

Yes, sir.

Are you giving them training?

Yes, sir.

RAMITA NAVAI:

And this is SEA, the sexual exploitation and abuse training.

UN MILITARY POLICE:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

RAMITA NAVAI:

And then you said that the first question you asked was: “Any women, children outside?” So you’re checking?

UN MILITARY POLICE:

[subtitle] Yeah, we are checking it. And once they get the training, then they will impart their knowledge to other guys.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Right.

RAMITA NAVAI:

To prevent peacekeepers from even paying women for sex, the secretary-general has forbidden UN personnel here from socializing with locals when off duty.

RAMITA NAVAI:

So the thinking is that if they’re bored, they may be tempted by women, may be tempted by sex. Is that the thinking?

UN MILITARY POLICE:

[subtitles] Yeah, that’s the thinking. That’s why we’ll keep those soldiers busy. If they’re there idle, they’ll think about the rest of the things.

GEN. BALLA KEITA, UN Force Commander, Central African Republic:

The tour of duty is one year. That’s why to some of the countries they said it’s too much.

RAMITA NAVAI:

To ask for a soldier not to have sex for a year?

GEN. BALLA KEITA, UN Force:

Yeah. Difficult, but this is... I mean I say to, to the soldiers even though it is humanly difficult there is no other way out. I’m just being honest. We have very good people. We have people that are so-so. We’ve got bad people and we’ve got very bad people.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In the same month as the secretary-general’s visit to the Central African Republic, the UN received a report of a new rape case in Bambari.

RAMITA NAVAI:

A young woman was found half naked and barely conscious right here at the foot of these stairs. She says she was walking home after a funeral and the last thing she clearly remembers is being offered a cup of tea by UN peacekeepers at this checkpoint here, just behind me.

JEAN-GASTON ENDJILETEKO, Samaritans’ Medical Center:

[subtitles] I received the patient at 1:20 a.m. She was vomiting. She told me she had drunk some drugged tea spiked with a powder at the Mauritanian checkpoint.

She said that she was ------ by the soldiers. I don’t know how many there were. On the ground near the stairs, we saw a condom wrapper.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The alleged rapists were Mauritanian peacekeepers. The young woman who says she was raped is called Mauricette. We found her living with her family on the outskirts of town.

MAURICETTE, 17 years old at the time:

[subtitles] After it happened, I came back home and talked about it. Later, when I passed people, they started talking about me. I felt ashamed and didn’t want to go out.

After that, I stopped doing many of the things I used to do. I can’t just walk outside like I used to. I’m condemned to just stay home.

RAMITA NAVAI:

After the rape was reported by the hospital, Mauricette was interviewed by a local representative from the UN. Her family then wanted to know what had happened to the Mauritanian soldiers.

MAURICETTE’S UNCLE:

[subtitles] The United Nations say they have several policies and zero tolerance regarding sexual abuse. But we don’t even know what happened to the person who did this or whether the contingent has been punished or not.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The Mauritanian mission at the UN didn’t respond to our repeated requests for comment. We also wanted to know if Mauricette had heard anything from the UN following her initial interview.

MAURICETTE:

[subtitles] I’ve heard nothing. No news.

RAMITA NAVAI:

How long it has been?

MAURICETTE:

[subtitle] Two months.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Bambari we spoke to a 17-year-old girl. She told us that she hasn’t heard anything from the UN or its partners for two months. She doesn’t know what’s happening from her case.

PARFAIT ONANGA-ANYANGA, Head of UN Mission, Central African Republic:

[subtitles] This is unacceptable. I hope, you know, that through you, we, we may be able to reach out to that person and, and, and make sure that she gets, you know, what is due to, to, to her and that our services will reach out. But it is absolutely unacceptable.

RAMITA NAVAI:

We came to New York to try to interview the secretary-general about what we’d found during our investigation. He declined. Instead we were offered an interview with the woman he’d appointed as his special coordinator on sexual exploitation and abuse.

JANE HOLL LUTE, UN Special Coordinator:

You know, the job of a peacekeeper is to, is to protect first and foremost.

2007

RAMITA NAVAI:

Jane Holl Lute has been working on this issue for years and held a senior position in the UN at the time of the 2005 Zeid report.

JANE HOLL LUTE:

Our watchword is zero tolerance. What does it mean? It means zero complacency and zero impunity.

RAMITA NAVAI:

In Bambari, a town in the Central African Republic, a young woman said that she’d been gang-raped by Mauritanian peacekeepers. This is logged on your own system. When we spoke to her, she said that she hadn’t had any contact from the UN in two months. She was never told about her case.

JANE HOLL LUTE, UN Special Coordinator:

Part of the reason that the secretary-general appointed a victims’ right advo-, rights advocate at such a senior level is to correct those kinds of shortcomings.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But do you think it’s acceptable that a woman who was so recently raped has initial contact with the UN and then doesn’t hear for two months?

JANE HOLL LUTE:

No, of course, of course, I don’t think it’s acceptable. And of course, I think what, what needs to be done is that she gets the support she needs in any and all cases.

RAMITA NAVAI:

You, yourself, have said that the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse is either an ongoing or potential problem in every single one of our missions. Why should we believe that this is something that can be fought when for decades it’s an ongoing problem and peacekeepers are still raping?

JANE HOLL LUTE:

It is an ongoing problem everywhere. And do we have to face the reality that there’s nothing we can do about it? No. We have to ask ourselves: Are we doing everything we can? You know, there’s no wand-waving here. You know, there’s no magic swish and flick and it goes away.

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

RAMITA NAVAI:

Back in Congo the UN invited us to see how it’s reinforcing its zero-tolerance message.

FORCES COMMANDER:

[subtitles] Now I will talk to you as a soldier will talk to other soldiers. The rape is a crime. It’s easy to understand. You kill, you kill somebody by raping.

RAMITA NAVAI:

And they also invited us to attend an event they were hosting in Bujavu, one of Goma’s poorest neighborhoods.

Adama Ndao is in charge here. She and her team encourage victims to report sexual exploitation and abuse and promise them support.

ADAMA NDAO, UN Conduct and Discipline Team:

[subtitles] The other day I received a call from someone. The person said, “Adama, we have a problem.”

We are doing a lot of outreach, educating the communities, providing them with all the support that they need in order to make sure that once they see the situation is worsening, to alert us.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I wanted to know whether Adama’s efforts to get victims to report abuse were working.

Francine got a job as a housekeeper for a civilian peacekeeper in Goma to support her family. She says it soon became clear that she was expected to have sex with her boss.

FRANCINE, 15 years old at the time:

[subtitles] He told me to keep quiet and not say anything. He told me he’d increase my wages. So I kept quiet and carried on with my work. I noticed I had missed my period.

ALICE AMINA KASEMWANA, Psychologist, Fondation Femme Plus:

[subtitles] It is neither transactional nor consensual. It’s just abuse.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Alice Kasemwana works for a local NGO that provides social and psychological support for victims of sexual abuse like Francine.

ALICE AMINA KASEMWANA:

[subtitles] Life is so hard that girls are prepared to do anything just to earn their living. Some families have not even had tea today and they’re wondering when they will eat. So in the short term they exploit the girl, abuse the girl, and then they leave. They are truly, truly, truly marginalized.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Soon after Francine became pregnant, the man she says is the father of her child disappeared.

FRANCINE:

[subtitles] I would like for him to be found and for him to help me look after his child.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Since 2010, the UN has recorded 194 paternity claims and these are just the cases it knows about. In 2016, the UN set up a trust fund to provide support for, among other things, young mothers and their peacekeeper babies. But Francine didn’t benefit. This is because the UN didn’t know of her existence or many others like her who don’t report their cases.

RAMITA NAVAI:

This box I’m standing in front of is the complaints box where young women are supposed to drop off allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation. But of course, look at it. I mean it’s a load of acronyms. What does that mean? And it’s not in the local language. It’s in English and French. I’ve never met any young women here, and I’ve spoken to so many, who’ve known of this box’s existence.

RAMITA NAVAI speaking French:

[subtitles] Have you ever seen anyone put anything in this box?

POLICE:

No.

RAMITA NAVAI speaking French:

No?

POLICE:

No.

RAMITA NAVAI speaking French:

Never.

POLICE speaking French:

Never.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Is there anything in it? Shall I have a look in this? You can’t see. Empty.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I wanted to put our findings to the UN’s acting head of mission in Congo.

RAMITA NAVAI:

When we spoke directly to women and girls, they wanted to tell somebody. They didn’t know how to. Does this surprise you?

DAVID GRESSLY, Acting Head of UN Congo Mission, 2018:

Well, as I said, I’m not sure that we’ve met, we have identified everybody. So it doesn’t surprise me that you have found such cases. What we, we are trying to do is to carry out our communication activities in the areas in which we work and we’ll continue to learn how to do it better and we just have to do it better.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The UN has also pledged to find and support victims from the past, women such as Valerie, who was just 14 when she says Didier Bourguet began paying her for sex. Back in 2005, the UN’s head of mission in Congo had made a direct promise to Bourguet’s victims.

WILLIAM SWING, Head of UN Congo Mission, 2003-2008:

We will make an effort to find them and we will make an effort to include them under our victims’ support program. That’s, that’s, that’s what we have to do.

RAMITA NAVAI:

And nobody from the UN has ever talked to you about this or interviewed you about this?

VALERIE:

[subtitles] No one has ever asked me. I wish they would look for us to help to pay for our education and help us recover the time we lost.

RAMITA NAVAI:

I put this to the UN official now in charge of tracking victims.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Adama, we found a woman who had been abused as a child by Didier Bourguet.

ADAMA NDAO, UN Conduct and Discipline Team:

[gasps]

RAMITA NAVAI:

Yeah. She said nobody ever spoke to her from the UN. She didn’t even know that he was imprisoned. So these children that were abused, raped by Didier, was there ever any follow-up?

ADAMA NDAO:

No, we could not trace them.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But we’d been able to find them through our local producer within days of arriving in Goma.

RAMITA NAVAI:

We heard of several of his victims who are around living in Goma, had never heard from the UN. Do you think that is acceptable?

DAVID GRESSLY, Acting Head of UN Congo Mission, 2018:

No, and we’ll correct it. You’ve identified them so we will correct that.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Why hasn’t the UN tracked any of his victims down?

DAVID GRESSLY:

Well, that’s, that’s a history that goes way back many, many years, more than a decade. I can’t explain all of that. But I think it’s helpful that you’ve identified these individuals so that we can do so.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But it took our Congolese producer a day to track quite a few of them down. So what, what, what’s happening there?

DAVID GRESSLY:

I’ll have to find out. I’ll have to find out.

RAMITA NAVAI:

It’s now more than ten years since Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein wrote his report about tackling UN sexual abuse. Successive secretaries-general have supported his recommendations to improve criminal accountability. But so far the UN has been unable to persuade member states to adopt them.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Why are the member states fighting this? Why won’t they adopt it?

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

You have to ask the member states. I mean you, you, you put me in...

RAMITA NAVAI:

Why do you think?

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN:

I, I don’t know because for me, it’s...

RAMITA NAVAI:

But you must have an idea. What do you...

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN:

No, I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But if you can’t explain this to me, you know, the man who saw this on the ground 10 years ago, wrote the seminal report, who spent time thinking about this and time thinking about solutions, if you can’t tell me why, who can?

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN:

The member states. You have to interview them.

RAMITA NAVAI:

We approached the UN representatives of numerous member states whose personnel have been accused of abuse and exploitation, including France, Congo, Mauritania. None of them agreed to be interviewed.

RAMITA NAVAI:

On the issue of accountability, ultimately where does the buck stop? Is it the secretary-general? Is it the member states?

ISOBEL COLEMAN, US Ambassador to UN for Management and Reform, 2014-2017:

Well, the way it, I mean, it’s both right now. I mean the secretary-general has a big microphone and should be using it on these issues. But member states, of course, have their bit to do. It’s their, you know, parliaments, their legislatures that need to pass these laws. It’s their militaries that need to provide accountability.

ANTHONY BANBURY, UN Assistant Secretary-General, 2014-2016:

The reality is today there is no guarantee of criminal accountability for someone who commits rape inside a UN peacekeeping mission despite a lot effort by a lot of people and a strong commitment by the top reaches of the, the UN that the systems in place now are full of holes.

RAMITA NAVAI:

For all the talk of reform, the numbers remain stark. There have been more than 1,700 allegations since the UN began making them public 15 years ago. But it’s only recorded 53 uniformed peacekeepers being sent to jail for sexual offenses. And only one international civilian -- Didier Bourguet. Bourguet, I discovered, has now completed his prison sentence and is a free man.

Bordeaux, France

RAMITA NAVAI:

In June 2018, I tracked him down to the south of France. He told me he’s homeless and keeps his possessions in the woods. Although he was convicted of just two rapes, I wanted to know about his many other alleged victims.

RAMITA NAVAI:

How many children did you have sex with in Congo?

DIDIER BOURGUET, Former UN employee and convicted rapist:

[subtitles] I would say about 20, 20, 25. I, I didn’t count, but about that.

RAMITA NAVAI:

How easy was it for a UN employee to find children and young girls to have sex with?

DIDIER BOURGUET:

[subtitles] Because of we had money it was really easy. We just had to buy, to give money or to buy something, and of course, they were starving so that’s why it’s easy.

RAMITA NAVAI:

How old were the children you were having sex with?

Didier Bourguet:

[subtitles] The exception, I would say, she was 13. But the other ones, they were between 15, 14, 16.

RAMITA NAVAI:

But you were convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old.

DIDIER BOURGUET:

Twelve, yeah, sorry.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Did you know what you were doing was wrong?

DIDIER BOURGUET:

Yes.

RAMITA NAVAI:

Did you feel guilty?

DIDIER BOURGUET:

At the time, no, not, not much.

RAMITA NAVAI:

We asked the French prosecutors about Bourguet’s admission that he’d had sex with multiple children, and our discovery of a new alleged victim. They told us they’d pass this information on to the police to investigate. For Bourguet’s alleged victims like Valerie, the scars remain deep.

VALERIE:

[subtitles] My heart is not content. This person has ruined my life.

RAMITA NAVAI:

The women and children in this film requested we pass on their details to the United Nations. Daniella was later contacted by the UN and has received counseling. Manda has also heard from the UN in the Central African Republic. Valerie’s been in touch with the UN team in Congo, as has Francine. They’re both still waiting to hear back. Mauricette has had no further contact from the UN four months after we brought her case to their attention. So far this year, the United Nations has recorded 32 new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers.

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