The rape of a 12-year-old girl and the apparent indiscriminate killings of a 16-year-old boy and his father by UN peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) must be urgently investigated, with those implicated in the crimes suspended immediately, said Amnesty International.
The incidents took place on 2 and 3 August as peacekeeping forces from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) were carrying out an operation in the capital Bangui’s PK5 Muslim enclave.
Amnesty interviewed 15 witnesses in the immediate aftermath of both incidents, as well as the girl and members of her family.
Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Joanne Mariner said:
“These allegations of rape and indiscriminate killings committed by UN troops are supported by physical evidence and multiple witness accounts.
“There must be a prompt and thorough investigation by a competent civilian authority and the girl must receive full support including medical and psychological care.
“UN peacekeeping forces in Bangui should review their rules of engagement to ensure they are taking all feasible precautions to avoid incidental loss of civilian life.”
2 August: Rape of 12-year-old girl
A UN police operation aimed at apprehending a criminal suspect who lives in the PK5 enclave of Bangui began sometime after 1am on 2 August.
The girl told Amnesty she had been hiding in a bathroom during a house search. A man allegedly wearing the blue helmet and vest of the UN peacekeeping forces took her outside and raped her behind a truck. She said that he dragged her out of the room, and slapped her when she started to cry.
“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty.
He brought her outside into a far corner of the courtyard behind a truck, groping her breasts and tearing her clothes. The girl later showed Amnesty her torn underwear.
Then she told Amnesty: “He threw me to the ground and lay down on top of me.”
Whilst raping her, gunfire erupted outside and he fled the compound to rejoin the larger group of peacekeeping troops.
Family members who were at the house during the search operation told Amnesty that the girl was separated from the rest of the family for about 20-30 minutes. One sister recalled: “When she returned from the back of the courtyard, she cried ‘mama’ and fainted. We brought her inside the house and splashed water on her to revive her.”
The girl’s mother told Amnesty that after the incident her daughter was crying and acting extremely upset. “I had her sit in a pan of hot water,” the mother explained – a traditional method of treating sexual abuse.
The girl was later examined by a nurse working under a doctor’s supervision, who found medical evidence consistent with sexual assault.
A MINUSCA spokesperson told Amnesty that the operation was carried out by Rwandan and Cameroonian police belonging to the UN peacekeeping forces. During armed clashes with residents of the enclave early in the morning of 2 August, a Cameroonian soldier was killed and nine other soldiers were injured.
3 August: Two unarmed men killed
The following day, UN peacekeeping forces returned to PK5. Witnesses told Amnesty International that the peacekeepers were not under any threat but began shooting indiscriminately in the street where the killings had taken place.
Balla Hadji, 61, and his son Souleimane Hadji, 16, were struck by bullets in front of their house. Balla was apparently shot in the back, while Souleimane was shot in the chest. A neighbour who witnessed the killings told Amnesty that “they were going to shoot at anything that moved.”
Without responding to the substance of Amnesty's questions about the PK5 operation, a MINUSCA spokesperson said it has opened an initial internal investigation into the operation.
In recent months, the UN has been criticised for its lack of adequate response to allegations of sexual abuse of children by international military forces in the Central African Republic.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently set up an External Independent Review Panel to examine the UN’s handling of these allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and to make recommendations as to how the UN should respond to similar allegations in the future. The UN and all its troop-contributing countries must fully adhere to its stated “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
Balla Hadji, a 61-year-old truck driver, was having breakfast with his wife when the troops arrived; their daughter had left the house to visit a neighbour. Hearing the shots and realising that his daughter was outside, Balla left the family compound to call for her to return. “Just at that moment,” said the neighbour, “the troops arrived at the corner of our street. They shot Hadji in the back as he was turning around to try to get back inside his compound.” Balla Hadji’s 16-year-old son, Souleimane, was inside the compound at the time; he ran to his father, who was falling to the ground. He too was shot.
Amnesty later visited the compound and saw two apparent bullet holes in the tin door and wall of the compound.
The family told Amnesty that the UN peacekeeping troops did not help them to transport the wounded man and boy to the hospital. Rather than provide assistance, witnesses said, the peacekeepers fired another round when the daughter tried to cross the street to reach her injured relatives.
Balla Hadji lost a lot of blood very quickly, and died on the spot. Neighbours managed to transport Souleimane to the hospital for emergency treatment, but he died at about 3:30pm that day. A group of youths had built several barricades on the main avenue to try to block the peacekeeping troops from moving around the area, and they exchanged fire with the troops on that avenue, a few blocks from the main roundabout.
A mechanic who was working a block away from the street on which the killings occurred said that UN peacekeeping troops shot twice at him and another mechanic that morning.
“One of the bullets even broke the window of the car I was working on,” he said. When he and his colleague put their hands in the air, he told Amnesty, the troops stopped shooting and allowed the two to flee to safety.