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Central African Republic To Elect New Leaders Amid Violent Conditions


Runoff elections are scheduled for tomorrow in the Central African Republic. The candidates are former prime ministers, both Christians. The election is intended to replace a Muslim rebel faction which seized power in a coup a few years ago. Whichever candidate wins, the country remains in chaos. There is an ongoing civil war between militia groups. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting, and food is scarce. Now, to add to the already dangerous situation in the Central African Republic, comes a report from Human Rights Watch. The report asserts that U.N. peacekeepers deployed in the country raped a number of women and girls. Hillary Margolis is a co-author of the report. She joined us from London.

HILLARY MARGOLIS: It's a situation where the population is facing numerous problems, including hunger, including massive human rights violations that have been committed by all parties to the conflict for several years now. And then on top of that we do have a situation where there have been numerous allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

WERTHEIMER: What was the role of the peacekeepers supposed to be?

MARGOLIS: The role of the peacekeepers was really intended to primarily protect the civilian population and to make sure that humanitarian aid could be delivered to civilians and that civilians received the protection that they needed.

WERTHEIMER: Could you just tell us what you found in your report?

MARGOLIS: We found some new cases that ranged from exploitation, which was sex in exchange for food or money, so women in the community having sex with peacekeepers in exchange for goods. And then there were also cases of rape and even gang rape, including of children.

WERTHEIMER: How widespread? How many people affected?

MARGOLIS: So we documented eight cases, but it's impossible to say how many cases there actually could be in the area.

WERTHEIMER: And how has the U.N. responded? Do you anticipate there'll be any action, any accountability?

MARGOLIS: We are happy to report that the U.N. was quite responsive. Those in charge of the U.N. in Central African Republic seem to be quite committed to changing things and to making sure that there is some measure of accountability and that these kinds of abuses are put to an end. The problem is that it's really an issue of a wider systemic problem.

WERTHEIMER: Going back to the election for a moment, given everything that you have seen in the Central African Republic, I wonder if you believe, if you are hopeful, that this election can improve things.

MARGOLIS: You know, I think people are quite hopeful that it could bring some form of stability, which is sorely needed in the country. But the fact remains that there do continue to be abuses perpetrated by all parties to the recent conflict. And this government will really have to take action to make sure that systems are put back in place that the rule of law is instated or reinstated and that perpetrators of crimes are held to account.

WERTHEIMER: Hillary Margolis of Human Rights Watch, thank you very much.

MARGOLIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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