News / USA

Benin Peace Corps Murder Provokes Calls for Reform

Nico Colombant

While the 2009 murder of a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country of Benin remains unaccounted for, activists and former volunteers are seeking reforms to the U.S. overseas service program. 

A hearing last week in the U.S. Congress failed to bring answers from Peace Corps officials about the murder of Benin Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey.  Prior to her death, Puzey had sent an email to other Peace Corps officials accusing a Benin national employee of sexually abusing children at a school in the northern village of Badjoude, where she also taught.

Disappointment

Former Peace Corps volunteer and executive editor of a widely read blog called Gender Across Borders, Emily Heroy, was one of many activists who was disappointed after closely following the proceedings.

"What happened, that was atrocious," Heroy said. "That family deserves to hear what happened to their family member."

Needed reform

She says there needs to be not just accountability from Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, but also a complete change of how Peace Corps offices and employees worldwide deal with cases of sexual assault.

"Some of the country directors I know were not former Peace Corps volunteers, which I think makes a big difference," noted Heroy. "Maybe they do not understand the volunteer's point of view in that respect, but also the doctors also working with Peace Corps volunteers and the program directors as well, many of them are country nationals, so they may not understand where we are coming from as U.S. citizens and how we deal with sexual assault.  It may be different in their country."

Betrayal

During the hearing, Kate's mother, Lois Puzey, said that Kate's email about the sexual abuse was passed on to the accused, Constant Bio, despite Kate's insistence that her identity be protected.

"Kate particularly emphasized the need for confidentiality because she understood that the brother of Mr. Bio worked in that same country office as the Peace Corps director," explained Puzey. "Tragically the way that Kate's email was handled ultimately led to her death."

The suspect

Bio has been in custody since the March 2009 murder, while authorities in Benin continue to investigate. In a letter to a Benin newspaper, Bio asserted his innocence, claiming he was being framed by Americans.

Activists have called for new legislation, ranging from whistle-blower protection for those who accuse other Peace Corps employees of crimes to better care of volunteers who become victims of sexual abuse themselves.

Congressional hearing

Last week's hearing focused on testimony by former volunteers who had been sexually assaulted during their service, some of them by Peace Corps officials.  They all testified that they had been mistreated by the Peace Corps after the attacks, being told to hide what happened or finding themselves ignored.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. (file photo)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. (file photo)

Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the Peace Corps needed a "culture change".

"Peace Corps safety and security failures have been a recurrent problem with tragic consequences for thousands of volunteers," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Some who seek to ignore those problems have asserted that volunteer service itself is inherently risky as an excuse for lax and ineffective safety and security measures.  That attitude is unacceptable."

Apology

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams apologized to victims.

Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams
Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams

"The brave women who have come forward have shown us that the Peace Corps has not always been sufficiently responsive, compassionate or sensitive to victims of crime and their families," Williams said. "It is heartbreaking to learn that.  And I apologize for any additional pain the agency has inflicted on our volunteers."

Williams said changes are being made and implemented.  But during his testimony, he did not acknowledge any role the Peace Corps may have played in the death of Kate Puzey.
The volunteer organization, which this year marked 50 years of existence, has more than 8,000 volunteers serving in more than 70 countries, many of them in remote locations working for better health and education.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid