A retired major general from the Netherlands and the former division commander of UN forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrick Cammaert made it clear to Michele Lent Hirsch, who interview him for the Women under Siege organization, that an overwhelming number of blue helmets have no idea how to deal with witnessing rape.
“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. “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.
It seems alarming that those trained by the UN to work in hot spots such as Sudan and DRC, where a woman is reportedly raped almost once every minute, freeze when confronted with rape.
This is the reason why, in 2008, after hearing the confusion among his peers on an issue he found quite clear, Cammaert began training peacekeepers on how to stop rape. He took real cases of sexualized violence from areas with UN forces and then formulated questions for the trainees in his audience. He developed a five-minute video showing DRC, Ivory Coast, and Haiti, “so that the audience, before they get those questions, have an idea of what the mission looked like, and they can hear survivors tell their stories,” he said.
Once the peacekeepers watch a video of rape survivors describing their ordeals, “they can hear it, they can sniff it, they can feel emotion about it,” Cammaert said. The exposure, he hopes, propels them to intervene in future scenarios.
Cammaert said he also trains peacekeepers to look out for warning signs, so that rape is not just something they stumble onto but something they can actually prevent. He gave an example: “If you hear from female committees that the females are going from their IDP camps back to their village to work in the fields, but they still sleep in the forest,” he said, something is amiss. Once peacekeepers ask women what they’re afraid of they’ll usually discover that there have been men roaming near the village, or other conditions that the women thought unsafe.
Until they’re trained, these peacekeepers don’t always realise that they must actively search for signs of future violence, Cammaert said to Michele Lent Hirsch, especially if they’ve been told they’ll be far from conflict.
“If you have not been told during your pre-deployment training, you might be shocked that you are facing these types of situations,” he said. “During my training, I had to work hard to convince these people that this is what is required of you, and you do not have two days to think about it, but two seconds to think about it.”
As for the effectiveness of these measures nothing has been tested, yet; however, Cammaert said that he hopes the training program will move out of UN Women, where it’s currently housed, and into mainstream UN activities. He is clear when he speaks about rape in conflict that it should concern all genders. This is not just a “women’s issue,” Cammaert said. “This is a security issue.”