Good News and Bad News from the Central African Republic
The good news is that although Ugandan and American troops have not been able to capture Joseph Kony, his Lord’s Resistance Army has been reduced from a peak of 3,000 soldiers to about 100 and no longer poses any significant threat to the residents of the Central African Republic, one of the continent’s poorest and most vulnerable countries. According to the United Nations, during the last three decades, Kony and his troops committed numerous atrocities, slaughtering more than 100,000 people and abducting 20,000 children for use as soldiers, domestic servants, or sex slaves.
The bad news is that hundreds of allegations have been filed against these Ugandan troops for raping and exploiting young girls. The United Nations, human rights groups, and survivors themselves have documented dozens of these accusations of sexual abuse. Some women and girls were taken from their villages by Ugandan solders who forced them to become prostitutes or sex slaves or to marry them. Other young girls were raped in fields where they were working. The Ugandan government has denied that its soldiers committed any acts of sexual abuse and has not prosecuted any of them.
Agreeing to marry a Ugandan solider makes sense to many impoverished girls whose families earn less than one dollar a day and who see few other options for escaping their destitution. Soldiers promise to take care of them and provide them with food, soap, and other necessities. Sadly, however, many soldiers abandon these girls after they have children, making their plight even worse.
Many allegations have also recently been made that soldiers from other countries have sexually exploited Central African Republic citizens. In the last couple of years, peacekeepers from France, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, the African Union, and the European Union have all been accused of sexual abuse, including against children. The United Nations’ chief human rights official labeled sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rampant.”
The major problem in the regions of the Central African Republic where most of this sexual exploitation is occurring is the absence of any governing authority. “There’s no gendarmes, no police, not even a court,” declares a victims’ advocate. Therefore, troops have been able to do as they please.
That soldiers sent to keep the peace sexually abuse women and children is deplorable and must be ended. Thankfully, the United Nations, the International Justice Mission, and other organizations are working to try to prevent these atrocities, but much more needs to be done.