FRANCE:A PARIS court will today hand down a verdict in the case of Didier Bourguet (44), a French citizen accused of raping 23 African girls while serving as a mechanic for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), writes Lara Marlowein Paris
If found guilty, Mr Bourguet could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. He claims that his victims, who were aged between 12 and 17 at the time, consented to have sex with him.
"I admit the sexual relations and the pornography, but I deny rape," Mr Bourguet told the court. He claimed he had no way of knowing the girls were under-age.
Mr Bourguet was arrested in a sting operation by police in the DRC in October 2004. He was extradited to France, where he has been imprisoned since. Police sent a child to his home, then moved in to arrest him when he tried to have sex with her. His bedroom was set up like a film studio, with mirrors on three walls and a remotely operated camera.
Police found dozens of videos and photographs of Mr Bourguet having sex with children, including one in which the girl had tears rolling down her face.
Mr Bourguet paid intermediaries to find his victims for him, and paid between €7 and €14 per "session". He was earning €1,500 per month for running the UN vehicle pool in Goma.
"I realised after that they could have been subjected to pressure because of financial interests," he testified. "I had lost all sense of reality."
In an internal report in 2004, the UN said it was investigating 72 cases of suspected rape and sexual offences committed by civilian employees and military personnel during the Congo mission.
Emmanual Daoud, the lawyer for a young Congolese victim who testified at Mr Bourguet's trial, said between 15,000 and 20,000 rapes are committed each year in the DRC by soldiers, rebels and sometimes by UN personnel.
"Over there, the colonial spirit persists. The white man gets what he wants," Mr Bourguet told investigators.
In a programme broadcast in 2005, the US television network ABC documented numerous cases of Congolese girls being raped by UN peacekeepers. A 14-year-old girl from Bunia, for example, was raped by a blue helmet from Morocco while walking to the village well for water.
The poverty of the DRC made its women and children easy prey for UN personnel. In one case, two peacekeepers traded jars of mayonnaise and jam for sex with young girls. In another, a 14 year-old girl told UN investigators she had sex with a peacekeeper in exchange for two eggs because her family was starving. A woman named Aimée Tsesi said her 15-year-old deaf-mute daughter was raped and impregnated by a UN soldier from Uruguay. The girl went to the gates of a UN camp to beg for food but was turned away.
Fr Alfred Buju, the Catholic priest in Bunia, told ABC that the Congolese feared the UN personnel. He said he saw two Pakistani UN soldiers assault a teenage girl in a convent. He was assured the soldiers would be expelled, but met one of the soldiers months later at a UN checkpoint.