A growing problem: U.N. peacekeepers accused of rape

United Nations peacekeepers bring hope to vulnerable populations when they arrive in war-torn countries and post-conflict areas. But allegations are mounting that they may bring something else: sexual assaults against the very people they were trusted to protect.

Amnesty International urged the U.N. on Wednesday to take swift action on allegations that one or more of its peacekeepers drugged and raped a 19-year-old woman in Central African Republic last month.

The victim told Amnesty International, a human rights organization based in London, that she was sexually assaulted near a checkpoint run by peacekeepers in the town of Bambari on Sept. 30.

Joanne Mariner, the senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International, said local authorities have confirmed the rape, and the U.N. is investigating the incident. If it is substantiated, she said, the allegation should result in the repatriation and prosecution of the guilty troops.

“Overall, the U.N. still has a long way to go. In this case, it’s too early to say because the U.N. hasn’t announced its findings and we don’t know what actions it’s planning to take,” Mariner told Yahoo News. “What’s really crucial is that these cases be criminally prosecuted. and that generally doesn’t happen.”

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UN peacekeepers around the globe
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UN peacekeepers around the globe
U.N. peacekeepers carry the coffins of the three United Nations soldiers from Bangladesh, who were killed by an explosive device in northern Mali on Sunday, during a ceremony at the MINUSMA base in Bamako, Mali September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Moustapha Diallo
Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers stand at attention during an event marking an end of the Mission of United Nations for the Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), at the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jeanty Junior Augustin
Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers salute during an event marking an end of the Mission of United Nations for the Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH), at the U.N. headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jeanty Junior Augustin
UN Bangladeshi peacekeepers of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) prepare to leave Haiti at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince on October 8, 2017. The long-running United Nations mission in Haiti officially ended on October 5, 2017, after 13 years, but its aim of restoring stability in the Caribbean nation has yet to be fully achieved. The United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti will succeed MINUSTAH on October 15. / AFP PHOTO / Pierre Michel Jean (Photo credit should read PIERRE MICHEL JEAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Muhammad Fariz (L), 29, a member of the Malaysian armed forces, kisses his mother hands Kamariah Deris, 55, before boarding a flight for the first batch of the Malaysian Battalion 850-5 for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at the Subang Air Force base near Kuala Lumpur on September 7, 2017. Malaysia sent about 850 troops to Lebanon to take part in UN peacekeeping activities. / AFP PHOTO / Mohd RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
LANGFANG, CHINA - JULY 03: Chinese policemen attend a test for UN peacekeepers on July 3, 2017 in Langfang, Hebei Province of China. All of the officers standing for UN peacekeeping duties, under Chinese Ministry of Public Security, have passed the evaluation and are ready to conduct overseas peacekeeping missions. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
LANGFANG, CHINA - JULY 03: Chinese policemen attend a test for UN peacekeepers on July 3, 2017 in Langfang, Hebei Province of China. All of the officers standing for UN peacekeeping duties, under Chinese Ministry of Public Security, have passed the evaluation and are ready to conduct overseas peacekeeping missions. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
LANGFANG, CHINA - JULY 03: Chinese policemen attend a test for UN peacekeepers on July 3, 2017 in Langfang, Hebei Province of China. All of the officers standing for UN peacekeeping duties, under Chinese Ministry of Public Security, have passed the evaluation and are ready to conduct overseas peacekeeping missions. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - NOVEMBER 21: Japanese 63th troop personnel arrive at Juba airport to take part in U.N. peacekeeping activities including rescue operations, in Juba, South Sudan on November 21, 2016. The mission begins with the deployment of 350 troops in South Sudan for U.N. peacekeeping operations as it's their first overseas fighting since World War Two. (Photo by Bullen Chol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Indian United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) Blue Helmet peacekeepers look on from a United Nations truck in Goma on November 8, 2016. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) killed a Congolese schoolgirl, and wounded at least 31 Indian Blue Helmets peacekeepers and one Congolese Civilian, on early morning of November 8 in Goma. The blue helmets were struck as they were exercising and the injured servicemen were taken to a UN military hospital. / AFP / Eduardo Soteras (Photo credit should read EDUARDO SOTERAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Peacekeeping troops from China, deployed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), patrol outside the premises of the UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Juba on October 4, 2016. According to the UN, due to the increase of sexual violence outside the PoC, UNMISS has intensified its patrols in and around the protection sites, as well as in the wider Juba city area, sometimes arranging special escorts for women and young girls. / AFP / ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN (Photo credit should read ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis poses with Argentinian soldiers of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus at the end of his weekly general audience at St Peter's square on June 15, 2016 in Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A South Sudanese civilian speaks with UN peacekeepers in an United Nations base in the northeastern town of Malakal on February 18, 2016, after gunmen opened fire on civilians sheltering inside killing at least five people. Gunfire broke out in the base in Malakal in the northeast Upper Nile region on February 17, 2016 night, with clashes continuing on Thursday morning that left large plumes of smoke rising from burning tents in the camp which houses over 47,000 civilians. / AFP / Justin LYNCH (Photo credit should read JUSTIN LYNCH/AFP/Getty Images)
A United Nations (UN) peacekeepers stands guard outside a polling station in Bangui as people go to the polls to take part in the Central African Republic second round of the presidential and legislative elections on February 14, 2016. Voters in the Central African Republic began casting ballots on February 14 in delayed legislative elections and a presidential run-off which they hope will bring peace after the country's worst sectarian violence since independence in 1960.The nation, dogged by coups, violence and misrule since winning independence from France, could take a step towards rebirth if the polls go smoothly. / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Senegalese general Balla Keita, commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic, speaks ouside a polling station in the Muslim PK-5 district of Bangui on December 30, 2015. Voters in the Central African Republic flocked to the polls on December 30 in presidential and parliamentary elections seen as vital to restore stability after years of inter-religious bloodshed. UN troops were patrolling the neighbourhood which has been a focal point in clashes between rebels from the Muslim minority and Christian militias and where five people were killed during a referendum on December 13 that paved the way for the vote. / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
MUNGOTE, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - FEBRUARY 19, 2016: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and delegation visit the Mungote Internally Displaced Persons camp some 80km north of Goma in The Democratic Republic of Congo. The Mungote IDP camp is one of the largest IDP camps in the DRC with some 12-14,000 estimated living in and around the the UN base for protection. Many fled their homes/villages when fighting between armed local militia (FDLR) and the Congolese army that erupted first in 2004. We visited the camp with a UN delegation focused towards further improving the living conditions of the many who take refuge from the fighting that still goes on in regions close by. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images.)
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - APRIL 8: 130 Chinese peacekeeping troops, the last detachment of the country's first deployment of a full infantry battalion for a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission arrive at Juba International Airport on April 8, 2015. China has participated the peacekeeping missions of United Nations for 25 years. (Photo by Samir Bol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - APRIL 8: 130 Chinese peacekeeping troops, the last detachment of the country's first deployment of a full infantry battalion for a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission arrive at Juba International Airport on April 8, 2015. China has participated the peacekeeping missions of United Nations for 25 years. (Photo by Samir Bol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JINAN, CHINA - APRIL 07: (CHINA OUT) The last peacekeeping squad gets ready for South Sudan during the 25th anniversary of China's peacekeeping for the United Nations on April 7, 2015 in Jinan, Shandong province of China. China has participated the peacekeeping missions of United Nations for 25 years. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
UN peacekeepers are pictured on October 29, 2014 at the Somalia's capital, in Mogadishu, during a visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Ban Ki-moon warned on October 29, 2014, that Somalia risks returning to famine barring urgent aid, as he visited the war-torn country three years since more than 250,000 people died of hunger. 'Over three million Somalis are in need of humanitarian assistance and unfortunately that number is growing. I urge donors to step up contributions to avert another famine in Somalia,' Ban told reporters in the capital Mogadishu. AFP PHOTO/Mohamed ABDIWAHAB (Photo credit should read Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)
Police and gendarmes assisted by UN troops (MINUSCA), proceeded in the arrest on October 2, 2014 of several men allegedly accused of being behind several cases of robbery in various districts of the capital Bangui. The system of justice in the strife-torn Central African Republic is so battered by neglect and a funds crunch that police, prosecutors and courts are helpless in tackling 'endless' atrocities. Peacekeepers were sent by the United Nations in September to join forces already deployed by the African Union, France and the European Union in a bid to stem the violence and keep order. AFP PHOTO / PACOME PABANDJI (Photo credit should read PACOME PABANDJI/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on May 4, 2014 shows Chinese peacekeeping police taking part in drills in Langfang, in northern China's Hebei Province, before they leave for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia. As members of the second batch of riot squad sent by China to Liberia, they would set off in June for an eight-month mission, state media reported. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Brazilian soldier of the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) peacekeeping contingent patrols in the Cite Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince on March 11, 2014. The Brazilian contingent counts 1,433 members, divided into engineering, headquarters, infantry troops and riot control, according to MINUSTAH. AFP PHOTO/Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
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U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric announced Wednesday that they had been alerted about the rape allegation, and that the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services carried out a “verification of information inquiry.” (Contradicting the Amnesty account, the U.N. described the victim as a minor.)

The U.N. purports to have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse, but experts say sexual abuse by peacekeepers is a widespread problem, and very serious in Central African Republic. An internal review acknowledges the troubling scope of these allegations and “severely deficient victim assistance.”

AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue Campaign, which works to end impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel, says the U.N. has demonstrated that it cannot continue to police and judge itself — and called for an independent investigation and special courts to cover each peacekeeping mission.

“The problem is enormous, and it is present in U.N. missions worldwide,” Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Campaign, told Yahoo News. “With all eyes on the Central African Republic, the country has become an important proving ground for the U.N.’s best efforts to respond and prevent [it], yet both are failing. We recently completed a review of leaked U.N. files that revealed the U.N. hides sexual exploitation and abuse complaints from public view, making cases disappear before they are ever investigated by proper authorities.”

An AP investigation published in April found that there were nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers in the past 12 years, but that only a fraction of the alleged attackers went to jail.

Mariner said the Bambari case differed from most others in a crucial way: Police learned of the assault within hours and launched an investigation, rather than hearing of it much later from a non-governmental organization.

FLASHBACK: UN building constructed in 1947

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Construction of the United Nations building in 1947
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Construction of the United Nations building in 1947
Ceremonial demolition of two stores on First Avenue and 42nd Street takes place in New York City to prepare for the construction of the United Nations Building, July 1947. Left to right: Assistant Secretary General of the UN, Byron Price (1891 - 1981), Manhattan Borough President Hugo Rogers and Mayor of New York City William O'Dwyer (1890 - 1964). (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Aerial view of the excavation site for the United Nations Building, New York, New York, September 1948. The area is bounded by 42nd Street on the south, 48th Street on the north, First Avenue on the west, and Roosevelt Drive on the east. Visible at the far right is the Queensboro Bridge. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 25: Workmen putting cornerstone of the United Nations Secretariat Building in place before start of dedication ceremony. Cornerstone is engraved with the name United Nations in English, French, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. (Photo by Hank Olen/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Living so near to the site of the future home of the United Nations on the East side of Manhattan gave James Rath the idea of keeping a photographic record of the building there. Mrs. Rath, (above) knits as she looks at the steel structure of the U.S. Steel's American Bridge Company. From this fire escape on First Avenue, her husband takes his pictures of the gradual growth of the U.N. community.
(Original Caption) 12/8/1948-Munhall, PA- The first steel beams for the 29-story United Nations Secretariat Building are loaded at the Homestead Works of U.S. Steel's Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp., where they were rolled. After going through a fabrication plant at Ambridge, Pennsylvania, where they will be made into sections, the beams will be sent on to New York. Each beam measures 30 feet in length and weighs about five tons.
(Original Caption) On the Manhattan site of the future home of the United Nations, the Secretariat Building is still under construction. On the east wall, which is built entirely of glass windows, is the scaffolding and hoist tower, serving as a work elevator right up to the top on the 39th floor.
10th October 1949: Left to right: Warren Austin, Lou Chandell, President of the Fuller Construction Company, Dick Streeter, Supt., American Bridge Company, Trygve Lie, the UN Secretary General, and Alexander Rudinski, a Polish United Nations, displaying the United Nations Flag in front of the incomplete United Nations building in New York. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
circa 1950: The 6000 windows of the United Nations Secretariat building in mid-town Manhattan, New York, are cleaned monthly by seven men. Window cleaner Pete Warkanes is hanging from the top left of the building. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)
May 1961: Norbert Gernavage cleans the windows of the United Nations headquarters in New York. The Chrysler Building is visible in the background. (Photo by Helmut Kretz/Keystone/Getty Images)
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According to the young woman, peacekeepers from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in northwestern Africa had offered her tea as she walked home from a funeral around 9 a.m., and that she passed out — awakening on the ground stripped of most of her clothing a few hours later. Workers from a nearby medical clinic found her, placed her in a bed and treated her with fluids. One of the Mauritanian soldiers reportedly visited the center that night. The next morning, the woman told a health care worker that she thought she had been raped, so they treated her with anti-HIV medication and emergency contraception.

The young woman told Amnesty International that she hopes her attackers go to prison, and that she’s willing to provide a formal statement to the U.N. and Mauritanian investigators. The alleged rape occurred near a checkpoint run by peacekeepers on the MINUSCA force — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.

Sectarian violence in the Central African Republic has reportedly displaced more than 1.1 million people — more than 500,000 in neighboring countries and roughly 600,000 internally. This is the largest number of people uprooted in the landlocked nation since 2013, when Muslim rebels overthrew longtime President Francois Bozize, inciting backlash from Christian militias.

Amnesty International’s Mariner said she arrived in Bambari a day after the alleged rape and stayed until Saturday. She interviewed 11 people with direct knowledge of the case, including the victim and medical staffers who treated her.

There have been other reports of U.N. peacekeepers sexually assaulting women in Bambari, but this is the first to have resulted in a formal criminal investigation.

Peacekeepers with the U.N. are not subject to domestic prosecution, but their countries of origin are responsible for investigating and prosecuting their crimes.

“If this case is substantiated — and obviously there’s very strong evidence — it’s important that the U.N. really push the troop contributing country to prosecute the case,” Mariner said, and “to treat this as a rape case, as if a woman had been raped in Mauritania.”

Mariner said Amnesty International expects the intergovernmental organization to “take vigorous action” and make sure Mauritanian authorities do so as well. She said their response will be closely scrutinized.

Last month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced that Jane Connors would become the first U.N. Victims’ Rights Advocate, responsible for developing systemwide processes for filing complaints that are sensitive to children and people of both genders. Guterres also announced the formation of the Circle of Leadership, which encourages government leaders to “demonstrate resolve and commitment” to eradicating sexual exploitation.

In February, during a ceremony for the deployment of 225 Mauritanian soldiers to the Central African Republic, the country’s defense minister — Diallo Mamadou Bathia — vowed none of the peacekeepers would ever be implicated in sexual abuse.

The U.N. did not respond to requests for comment.

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