It was a raid gone horribly wrong. In the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 2, U.N. peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic entered a Muslim enclave known as PK5 in the capital city of Bangui. They were after a man named Haroun Gaye, a suspect in a number of violent acts allegedly carried out on behalf of the Muslim community, in a country that has been torn apart by war between the mainly Christian “anti-balaka” groups and Muslim-majority Seleka rebels.
The operation quickly spiraled into chaos. A bloody gunfight broke out between the joint Rwandan and Cameroonian peacekeeping force and locals, killing one peacekeeper and injuring eight other peacekeepers, according to the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA, the U.N.’s peacekeeping operation in CAR. During a second raid on Aug. 3, four other civilians, including a 16-year-old boy and his father, were killed, according to Amnesty International. A source who asked not to be named said that, according to MINUSCA, one more civilian was killed and 61 people in total were injured, including seven children — numbers, the blue-helmet mission said in an Aug. 13 interview, that it was “not in a position to confirm.” (Amnesty first learned of the attacks the same day of the first firefight — Aug. 2 — but didn’t release the news publicly until Aug. 11.)
In the mayhem of the attacks, according to Amnesty, one of the peacekeepers allegedly violently raped a 12-year-old girl.
“The girl had been hiding in a bathroom during a house search at approximately 2am on 2 August. A man allegedly wearing the blue helmet and vest of the UN peacekeeping forces took her outside and raped her behind a truck.
‘When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,’ the girl told Amnesty International.”
Within 60 hours of the alleged assault — well within the 96-hour recommended window in which to collect usable biological evidence — the girl was brought to a clinic. There, a nurse found “medical evidence consistent with sexual assault,” Amnesty reported. The group also saw her torn underwear.
So now the investigation begins — and along with it, a wave of skepticism about whether a rape even occurred.
The investigation will be conducted by the U.N. Peacekeeping’s Conduct and Discipline Unit, MINUSCA spokesman Hamadoun Touré told me in a phone interview. He also said that, in his personal opinion, the allegation of rape is not credible. “When peacekeepers arrived at the site to arrest [Haroun Gaye], they were attacked immediately with heavy, heavy weapons,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think someone would think of raping someone at this time. I think they will think of how to escape. He will think, ‘I’m a human being before I’m a man.’ When you’re under fire, I think you think of saving your life. Really, really, really in this situation you don’t think of a girl.”