UN peacekeepers raped a 12-year-old girl during security operations in the capital of the Central African Republic earlier this month, according to investigators at Amnesty International.
The UN had not publicly reported the rape allegation when Amnesty released their findings on Tuesday. The sexual assault allegedly occurred in the early morning on August 2, during an operation involving UN peacekeeping forces in a predominantly Muslim enclave of Bangui called PK5.
According to a statement released by the UN mission in the country, MINUSCA, peacekeepers arrived in PK5 that evening to carry out an arrest warrant issued by the Public Prosecutor of Bangui when they were fired upon by armed assailants, leaving one Cameroonian peacekeeper dead.
According to Amnesty's report, the rape of the 12-year-old started around 2:00am, about an hour after the arrival of the peacekeepers in PK5. The next morning, the peacekeepers returned and murdered two unarmed civilians, evidently in retaliation for the loss of their colleague on August 2.
Jonathan Pedneault, the Amnesty researcher who investigated the incidents in Bangui, told VICE News that the August 2 rape took place during a period when power was cut throughout the neighborhood, leaving it swathed in darkness.
"During the operation, a few houses were searched," said Pedneault. "In one of the houses, the soldiers went from room to room, and collected men in one place and put women in another."
"In the midst of this a little girl who was very afraid took refuge in a bathroom, and the family was unaware she was there," continued Pedneault. "One of the soldiers, according to the girl, took her to one of the remote corners of the compound, and that's where the rape would have happened."
The girl, speaking to Amnesty said that "When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth."
The girl said the incident took place in a courtyard, where she was groped and raped behind a truck.
"He threw me to the ground and lay on top of me," the girl recounted. She would later show Amnesty International her undergarments, which were ripped.
According to the victim's account, her rapist only ended his attack when gunfire broke out nearby, and he left to rejoin his unit.
Amnesty reported that upon a medical inspection, the girl exhibited "evidence consistent with sexual assault."
On the morning of August 3, peacekeepers returned to PK5. Like the night before, the contingent included troops from Rwanda, as well as Cameroon. According to witnesses that spoke with Amnesty, "the peacekeepers were not under any threat but began shooting indiscriminately in the street."
A 61-year-old man named Balla Hadji was shot and killed along with his son, 16-year-old Soulemani. "They were going to shoot at anything that moved," said one witness.
Related: Watch the VICE Documentary about the Central African Republic: The Devil Tried to Divide Us
In addition to the girl, Amnesty spoke with her family members and 15 other witnesses to both events.
Though Amnesty staff were able to quickly enter the area to document what had transpired, Pedneault said it did not appear that UN investigators had travelled to the area as of Tuesday, evidently due to security concerns. Asked if they had managed to enter the area, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said he did not know.
Though Amnesty brought both incidents to the attention of MINUSCA last week, the mission has not released any public statement on the allegations, only telling the rights group that they had begun an initial internal investigation into the entire operation.
"We would like to emphasize once more that no conduct of this nature will be tolerated," Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday.
The latest allegations are only the latest in a string of sexual abuse claims made against international peacekeepers in the country, dating back to December 2013. That month, a French peacekeeping force known as Sangaris deployed to the country, joining an African Union mission — which was itself previously accused of murdering civilians — in an attempt to stem what had become a roiling and bloody internal conflict.
In March of that year, predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels captured Bangui. Chaos in the capital and surrounding areas grew in the following months, culminating in the waning months of 2013, when bodies littered Bangui. As the Seleka looted and killed with wanton abandon, mostly Christian militias known as the anti-balaka began their own campaign of terror, targeting both the Seleka and Muslim civilians. Many areas of the capital were effectively cleansed of their Muslim population, which fled to the East of the country, or to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Among those that remain in Bangui, many are concentrated in PK5.
As the Seleka melted away in the months following the French troops' arrival in 2013, a de-fact split began to emerge in the Central African Republic; while peacekeepers attempt to patrol its expanses, anti-balaka remain active in the country's west and south, and the remnants of the Seleka roam the east. Elements of both groups, by now themselves fractured by the conflict, have been implicated in killings this year, in addition to exerting control over illicit economic activity in the country, including diamond mining.
After the Sangaris deployment, both French and African peacekeepers were implicated by UN investigators in the sexual abuse of numerous boys near Bangui's international airport, where an impromptu camp for displaced persons emerged during the war. The handling of those allegations, both at the UN and in Paris, have raised ire among critics of the UN's human rights reporting system. Earlier this year, Secretary Ban Ki Moon established an independent inquiry to investigate the treatment of such incidents.
Allegations of abuse continued after MINUSCA took over peacekeeping operations in September of last year. This June, the mission said it was looking into accusations that a blue helmet sexually abused a minor in the east of the Central African Republic. Later that month, MINUSCA said it was also investigating reports that "street children" in Bangui had been sexually abused by peacekeepers, possibly over a period of several months.
"The Secretary General is considering the situation very seriously," said Dujarric. "This is clearly not normal."
Internal communications between the group of peacekeepers that perpetrated the alleged crimes this month and their superiors in Bangui and New York remains unclear.
"One would expect that when there are civilian casualties anywhere near a UN operation, it is immediately reported to the mission's headquarters and to the UN headquarters," said Pedneault. "From the information I have, this has not been the case."
Adding to the cloud surrounding MINUSCA is the murder of four Rwanda peacekeepers by a fellow soldier from their contingent. According to the Rwandan Ministry of Defense, in addition to killing his four colleagues, the solider also wounded four other Rwandan blue helmets at the country's battalion headquarters during a predawn attack on Saturday before killing himself.
Watch the VICE News documentary The Human Cost of War in the Central African Republic: