By Bill Varner, Bloomberg News
Sexual violence against Haitian women who have been living in camps since the January earthquake is increasing, in part because the United Nations isn’t doing enough to protect them, Refugees International said.
“More experienced United Nations personnel and resources for humanitarian protection are urgently required,” the Washington-based group said in a report released today. “Protection should be considered a greater priority.”
More than 1 million Haitians have been living in about 1,300 camps since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people and caused $7.8 billion in damages.
Refugees International said 70 percent of the camps lack proper management and incidents of rape and abortions performed on children as young as 10 years old have tripled in Haiti since the earthquake. The report cited gang-related violence and cases of women trading sex for food.
“No one is saying this is in perfect order,” Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon, told reporters in New York. “It is not. It is obvious that more can be done.”
The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti increased its presence in the largest camps last month, according to Nesirky. He said 559 UN police and 600 soldiers are stationed in six of the largest camps, and that 704 soldiers and five mobile police units are carrying out random patrols.
Sexual violence was a “serious problem” in Haiti before the earthquake, Nesirky said.
Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the agency wants to “see an increased capacity to protect” women in the camps.
The UN has 11,848 soldiers and civilian police in Haiti.
Refugees International was also critical of the general state of the camps, citing a lack of translators to enable UN staff and other aid workers to communicate with Haitians.
“Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living,” the Refugees International report said. The humanitarian response to the earthquake “appears paralyzed.”
Emilie Parry, a co-author of the report, said problems range from the $2 billion in aid and reconstruction money received, out of $10 billion pledged, to lack of coordination among private aid groups, the UN and Haiti’s government.
Haiti’s army and police, “under resourced” before the earthquake, were “overwhelmed” by the demands of the recovery effort, she said.
The UN is also under fire for not protecting women from sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. UN peacekeepers based a few miles away failed to prevent some of the attacks on 303 civilians there in July and August, Atul Khare, deputy head of the mission, told the Security Council on Sept. 7.
Refugees International said the handling of food aid in Haiti has contributed to problems for women. The UN World Food Program in April discontinued general food distribution that reached as many as 4 million Haitians after the earthquake struck. The Rome-based agency has since targeted food distribution at pregnant women and children and is feeding about 1.6 million Haitians.
This has created the problem of other women feeling the need to trade sex for food, the report said.
Haiti’s ambassador to the UN, Leo Merores, didn’t respond to a request for a comment on the Refugees International assessment.
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