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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs