Patrick Cammaert is often quoted as saying that it is now more dangerous to be a woman than it is to be a soldier in war. But perhaps he should be quoted more widely on another startling fact: that UN peacekeepers the world over turn away when they witness rape.
A retired major general from the Netherlands and the former division commander of UN forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo—he was appointed in 2005 as head of MONUC, which later became MONUSCO—Cammaert shared this reality with me when we spoke following a UN meeting in September. While of course not all UN soldiers ignore sexualized violence, just as not all UN soldiers commit sexualized violence themselves, Cammaert made it clear that an overwhelming number of blue helmets have no idea how to deal with witnessing rape.
And so, he said, they don’t.
“If peacekeepers are not prepared during their pre-deployment training for action to prevent and stop sexual violence, then when they are confronted with it, they don’t know exactly what to do,” Cammaert explained in a follow-up interview. “And then they freeze and they pretend not to see it, or they think that they should not intervene, or they come from a background where beating up women is more acceptable than in other cultures,” he said. Others simply don’t believe that their UN mandate allows them to step in.
*To read more go to Women Under Siege.*