29 October 2013

Central African Republic: Seleka Soldiers Raped Women, Girls in Bangui - Report

Photo: Godfrey Byaruhanga/Amnesty International
Jovachi Mongonou, 9, had both legs amputated after he suffered severe shrapnel wounds when Seleka soldiers shelled a church in Bangui in April 2013.
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An excerpt from the Amnesty International report, "CAR: Human rights crisis spiralling out of control":

Amnesty International has received numerous reports from victims, witnesses and human rights defenders in the CAR of Seleka soldiers raping women and girls and targeting them for other forms of sexual violence.

The organization spoke to several women who told Amnesty International that since 24 March 2013 they have been forced to remain indoors for fear of being raped. They said they learned from acquaintances and media reports that many women had been raped by Seleka soldiers. Some of them said that Seleka soldiers demand money and other valuables, such as mobile telephones, from women and those who have none are often raped.

In late July and early August 2013, Amnesty International researchers interviewed several dozen women in Bangui who reported having been raped in recent months by Seleka soldiers. Local human rights defenders informed the researchers that most women and girls who reported having been raped did not want to be interviewed for fear of being identified and/or stigmatized. Those who did speak to the researchers insisted that they did not want their true identities to be revealed, although they gave their consent to Amnesty International publishing their stories. As a result, the names used in the testimonies below are not the true names of the victims or the witnesses.

Many of these women are from the Boy Rabe suburb in Bangui and they were attacked while Seleka soldiers were supposedly searching homes for weapons held by former government soldiers. Amnesty International researchers interviewed three women from one family who all reported having been raped on 31 March 2013. Bella, aged 29 years, was at home with her widowed stepmother and younger sister when soldiers ordered the women to open the door for them to search their house for weapons. Six male soldiers in the company of one female soldier started raping the women. The male soldiers were raping the women while the female soldier remained outside guarding household goods that had been looted from the suburb and the women's house. The women believed that the men who raped them were foreigners - Chadians according to the women - because they spoke broken Sango, CAR's national language.

Bella told the researchers that she sustained injuries to her genitalia and had since been experiencing very painful menstruation. Bella's boyfriend abandoned her after he learned that she had been raped. Her younger sister had not menstruated since the rape and feared that she may have become pregnant as a result. The three victims had not had any medical care after they were raped. None of the three women had received medical or psychological treatment or support by early August 2013.

Other women the organization interviewed said they were raped in the presence of their children and/or older relatives. On 13 April 2013 Maxime was preparing to go to church when Seleka soldiers forced their way into her house claiming to be searching for illegally-held guns.

Prior to their arrival at her house, Maxime had been able to hide her uncle's military uniform, except for one pair of trousers. She hid the pair of trousers in a piece of cloth which she tied around her neck. She feared that she would be subjected to violence if the soldiers found a military uniform in her house. The soldiers opened the piece of cloth and saw the pair of trousers. They set the pair of trousers, as well as some of her own clothes and those of her children on fire inside the house.

Amnesty International researchers saw the damage caused by the fire to the wall and roof of her one-bedroom house. The soldiers stole clothes, a mattress, a mobile phone and some jewellery and loaded them on a truck the soldiers had been travelling on. Three of them then began raping her in turns. They held her at gunpoint when she tried to resist being raped. One of the soldiers bit her on the left breast while another slapped her. Her left cheek looked to be still swollen when Amnesty International researchers met her in late July 2013.

Maxime told Amnesty International researchers that the rape lasted several hours. Her children were in the meantime crying and their cries alerted a soldier she believed to be Central African to intervene. The rapists threatened to shoot him when he tried to stop them. She recalled that she fainted at that point and was later told that the Central African soldier telephoned the unit commander who came to stop the rape.

The soldier who intervened reportedly broke the door of a nearby shop to get sugar and milk to revive her. She was taken to hospital where she spent several days in intensive care. Fearing stigmatization, Maxime has only told her mother about the rape and not any other members of her family.

During and after her stay in hospital, Maxime was not tested for sexually transmitted diseases because she did not have any money to pay for the tests. She has since avoided having any sexual relations with her partner because of the trauma of the rape. She told Amnesty international researchers that she would need treatment for the physical injuries and psychological trauma but she does not know where to get it from and could not, in any case, afford to pay for it.

Selina, aged 26, told Amnesty International researchers that she was at home with her younger brother at 8am on 14 April 2013 when Seleka soldiers came to their home in Boy Rabe. Fearing violence from the soldiers, Selina tried to run but was tripped by one of the soldiers and she fell to the ground. The soldiers forcibly undressed her and at least five of them started raping her in turns. After a while she lost consciousness and it was around 10am when she came to. She has not been able to see a doctor because she lacks the money to pay for medical care. She told Amnesty International researchers that she was continuing to suffer from severe abdominal pains and irregular menstruation. After she was raped, her fiancé of three years abandoned her. She said that as a result of widespread rape in Boy Rabe since March 2013, it was difficult for girls in the suburb to have relationships with men in and around Bangui. Victims of rape or those thought to have been raped are likely to be discriminated against and find it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to form relationships and get married and/or bear children. Many women in the CAR depend on their husbands for security and as breadwinners. Children resulting from rape also face stigmatisation and rejection from their families and the community.

None of the women and girls to whom Amnesty International spoke has been able to access all the medical and psychological treatments they need.

In many cases, this is because the women cannot afford such treatment.

However, the fear of being stigmatized and rejected by family and community also prevents women from seeking the treatment they need. As some of the cases highlighted above show, that fear is real, and some women have been abandoned by their partners or husbands with serious economic and social consequences. At the time of writing, no case of rape or other sexually violent attacks had been investigated and no suspects prosecuted.

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