The Amnesty International has called upon the United Nations to take firm action in response to credible new evidence that UN peacekeepers drugged and raped a young woman in the Central African Republic.
In a statement issued on Friday, the rights body stated: "After interviewing the victim and 10 others with direct knowledge of the case, the organization’s on-the-ground research revealed that one or more Mauritanian peacekeepers allegedly raped a 19-year-old woman in the central town of Bambari on the evening of September 30, 2017."
“We have uncovered compelling evidence suggesting that at least one Mauritanian peacekeeper, and possibly more, raped a young woman,” said Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International. “The public authorities in the town of Bambari have confirmed the rape, and the UN is investigating it.
UN peacekeepers are in CAR to protect civilians from violence, rather than perpetrate it.
“If substantiated, these serious rape allegations should result in the repatriation, suspension, and prosecution of any troops suspected of criminal responsibility. The UN must also ensure the victim receives support and damages. Its peacekeepers are in CAR to protect civilians from violence, rather than perpetrate it.”
The 19-year-old woman told Amnesty International that the rape took place adjacent to a checkpoint manned by a group of Mauritanian peacekeepers, part of the MINUSCA force stationed in CAR. She said that because she was feeling ill, she accepted tea that the soldiers offered her as she was walking home from a funeral at about 9pm.
She said she passed out not long after she drank the tea, and woke up on the ground nearby several hours later, nearly nude.
A guard and healthcare worker from a medical clinic adjacent to the checkpoint found the woman in the middle of the night, seeming quite ill and sedated. They put her in bed and treated her with intravenous fluids.
They told Amnesty International a Mauritanian soldier from the checkpoint twice visited the clinic later that night to ask where the woman was.
In the morning, when she had recovered enough to speak coherently, the woman told the healthcare worker that she believed she had been raped.
This is a crucial test case for UN peacekeeping. Its response will be closely scrutinized.
Medical staff at a local hospital carried out tests on the victim and told Amnesty International that they found evidence of drugging and sexual violence, including semen. They treated the woman with emergency contraception and anti-HIV medication.
Authorities in Bambari carried out a formal criminal investigation of the case, which, according to the local prosecutor, was the first such investigation involving UN troops.
Although there has been a continuing stream of well-documented allegations of rape involving UN troops in Bambari, particularly troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo, no other cases have resulted in criminal investigations.
While Amnesty International was present in Bambari at the beginning of October, the victim and witnesses came forward to give statements to the police. The healthcare worker also identified the Mauritanian soldier who had visited the clinic in the middle of the night to look for the 19-year-old woman.
Local workers who visited the site of the incident very early in the morning said that they saw condoms and condom wrappers at the exact location of the alleged rape. Later that morning, the police photographed at least one condom wrapper there, as well as traces of a material that was believed to have come from the boots of Mauritanian soldiers.
The local prosecutor in Bambari has forwarded the case to the country’s attorney general for diplomatic action. Although UN troops enjoy immunity from domestic criminal prosecution, troop-contributing countries have a duty to investigate and prosecute crimes by their troops.
At a press conference held in Bangui yesterday, local authorities reportedly denounced the larger problem of sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping troops.
“This is a crucial test case for UN peacekeeping,” said Joanne Mariner.
“Given its stated zero tolerance policy, we expect the UN to take this case extremely seriously, and to take vigorous action to ensure that the Mauritanian authorities do the same. Its response to this case will be closely scrutinized.”
At a meeting with Amnesty International last week, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the head of MINUSCA, emphasized that the UN was taking the allegations very seriously, and had immediately dispatched a team of investigators to Bambari. He promised that the UN would take decisive action if the allegations were found to be substantiated.
The 19-year-old victim told Amnesty International that she wanted the UN to investigate the crime, and that she wanted the perpetrators to go to prison. She said that just as she had willingly given a formal statement to the local police, she was prepared to recount the entire incident to UN and/or Mauritanian investigators.
An Amnesty International researcher in Bambari interviewed 11 people with direct knowledge of the case, including the victim, members of her family, medical staff who cared for her, witnesses who visited the site of the alleged rape early that morning, and local police and prosecutorial authorities.
On several previous occasions, Amnesty International has documented allegations of rape and sexual violence by MINUSCA and other peacekeepers in CAR, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Bangui in August 2015.