Feb. 22, 2005
Democratic Republic of Congo
Our team here in the Congo found another group of girls who say they have been raped by U.N. peacekeepers. We've been interviewing four or five a day. It is easy to get hardened or callous after three or four days of it. The first girl, age 11, sat down and told her story. It was mesmerizing. She said she was going down to the lake to wash clothes when she was taken. She sat in the chair and spoke Swahili in a soft voice. After 10 or 12 such girls it was hard to take in.
One afternoon outside of the humanitarian organization Save the Children, part of our team pulled up in a minivan with three more girls — three more girls who claim to have been raped. I looked them over to see if there would be anything different about their stories.
One girl got out of the van. She was 9 years old, but she was a big 9-year-old. To me, she looked like the other girls. I didn't see how it would add or change the story, but Z said we should interview her since we were there. So we did. I asked her to do the interview. I went back to the car. I didn't even stand around to listen. I had heard enough. I would read the transcript after it was translated.
Save the Children was not much help. The guard outside the gate told us in French, "Just the whites, the blacks stay outside." Half of our team is black. The guard himself was black. When we finally got in, the administrator said they mostly dealt with reuniting families. They didn't deal with little girls allegedly raped by U.N. peacekeepers. So we left.
We found three more girls yesterday, all who said they were raped by U.N. peacekeepers here in Congo. This time it was something different. One of them was tiny. She was just above my knee when she stood up. I thought she must be a younger sister of one of the victims. In fact she was one of the victims, 7 years old. When we put her in the chair to interview her, her feet did not touch the ground. Her internal organs had been damaged. She had a tiny red smock on and her head was shaved. She had not been to the doctor to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, but the local children's organization we found her through thought she may have gonorrhea.
The shot I wanted to get was myself walking with her, to show how small she was. We went back to the scene of the alleged crime, the high grass about 20 yards away from the barbed wire wall of one of the U.N. peacekeeper bases here in Goma. The little 7-year-old girl slowly put both arms above her head, hands together, elbows out, as if trying to shelter herself from an attack that had happened weeks ago. I walked with her off the path and a few steps into the grass. She stopped. I wanted to see the exact spot where she said she was raped. The translator was on the phone. I asked her if this was the spot. She said something and the little girl's arms went up over her head again. She took a couple more steps, then pointed at the long green grass in front of us, then she turned around, arms still over her head, and began to walk back toward the path.
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Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.