“Sometimes when I’m alone with my baby, I think about killing him. He reminds me of the man who raped me.”
It is one of the biggest scandals the United Nations (UN) has faced in decades. Women and children from conflict zones across the globe are coming forward, alleging they have been sexually abused by UN Peacekeepers.
From the mass rape of German women by the Red Army as they advanced to Berlin, to the unbelievable savagery of the Rape of Nanking, to systematic rape during the Bosnian war; women and children have always paid a brutal price in times of conflict.
Spoils of war or military strategy?
There are many schools of thought as to why sexual abuse is so prevalent in war. And not just rape, but gang-rape, forced bestiality and forced incestual rape.
Amnesty International recently told the BBC that rape, far from being about sexual gratification and ‘spoils of war’, is sometimes used by armies as a way of exerting social control. A common strategy is to impregnate ‘enemy’ women. In the Bosnian conflict, a report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) says it first came across rape as a weapon in the 1990s.
"In Bosnia, systematic rape was used as part of the strategy of ethnic cleansing," it said. "Women were raped so they could give birth to a Serbian baby."
During the Bosnian war, one young woman recalled a dozen drunken Serbian militiamen storming into the school gymnasium in which she and more than 100 other young Muslim women were being held along with their infant children. The Chetniks shouted at us: “Look at how many children you can have. Now you are going to have our children. You are going to have our little Chetniks.' They said they weren't interested in women who were expecting babies because they couldn't make them pregnant.”
However, the ubiquity of rape in conflict zones can also result from practice rather than strategy; leaders do not actively encourage rape, but turn a blind eye to its occurrence.
This is more likely to be the situation regarding the abuses carried out by UN Peacekeepers.
The tip of the iceberg?
Last month the UN stated it had received 44 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and staff in UN missions so far this year involving more than 40 minors. This is on top of the 69 claims of sexual abuse of women and children by peacekeepers in 2015.
The UN’s watchdog said it received 480 reports of sexual exploitation and abuse between 2008 and 2013, with the majority of cases reported in Liberia, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
And these are just the reported cases. Due to the vulnerability of the of the women and children in these countries, there are likely to be many more victims who have not spoken up due to lack of support or fear of not being believed.
The quote at the top of this article may spark horror and revulsion, but it must be taken in context. It was made by a 14-year-old mother, broke, hungry, and living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who alleged she was raped by a UN Peacekeeper. However, the UN recorded her case not as rape but as ‘transactional” sex’.
Compensation for the victims
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, stated peacekeepers who sexually abused locals should be fired and face court martial for their actions. He also said DNA samples should be taken from alleged offenders and entire units should be repatriated if several were involved in wrongdoing.
The United Nations Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse states that the UN will provide basic support and services to victims of sexual abuse by peacekeeping staff. This includes; medical care, legal services, support to deal with psychological and social effects of the experience and immediate material care, such as food, clothing, emergency and safe shelter."
Children born as a result of rape are to receive assistance with their individual needs, and the United Nations pledges to "work with Member States to facilitate, within their competence, the pursuit of claims related to paternity and child support."
However, the strategy makes it clear that, it “shall in no way diminish or replace the individual responsibility for acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, which rests with the perpetrators. The strategy is not intended as means for compensation.”
The UN’s unwillingness to compensate victims can be traced back to fear of false allegations being made by locals wishing to extort money from the organisation and individual peacekeepers.
Claims against UN Peacekeepers must be made against their employer, normally the Government of the country the peacekeeper comes from.
Abuse by UK personnel
Women and children who are victims of abuse by peacekeepers under UK command can make a claim for compensation against the Ministry of Defence. In Britain, cases can often be run on a ‘no win, no fee’ arrangement, meaning if you lose, you will not have to pay any legal costs.
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following sexual abuse by a British member of the United Nations Peacekeeping force. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.