By Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte
September 7, 2011
[The following is an edited version of Democracy Now’s Sep. 6 interview with Ansel Herz, the independent journalist and Haiti Liberte collaborator who broke the story in the international press about recent events in Port Salut.]
The commander of the Uruguayan Navy’s United Nations mission in Haiti has been dismissed after the circulation of a video that allegedly shows Uruguayan occupation troops sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man.
The video appears to show four UN troops in camouflage attacking the young man, named Johnny Jean. The men are laughing and standing over Jean while he lies face down on a mattress, his trousers pulled down. Two of the men can be seen holding his arms behind his back. The uniformed men speak Spanish, but it’s inaudible. The Uruguayan Defense Ministry said yesterday it had begun a “repatriation of the troops involved.”
Although it occurred in July, a graphic cell-phone video of the alleged attack only surfaced in recent days. This latest episode of abuse follows others by UN forces. In December 2007, 111 Sri Lankan soldiers were deported from Haiti following charges of sexual abuse of under-age girls. In 2005, UN troops went on the rampage in Cite Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Port-au Prince, killing at least 23 people, including children. On Sep. 5, there were demonstrations in Port Salut, the Southwestern seaside town where the incident is alleged to have occurred.
We go to Port Salut to speak with journalist Ansel Herz, who broke the story.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday there were demonstrations in Port Salut. Ansel Herz spoke to a town resident Katia Daniel at the protest.
KATIA DANIEL: We are here in support of Johnny Jean, because of what happened to him. It could happen to my brother, my sister, or anybody. So, this has to stop… Those people are here as so-called peacekeepers, but they are not peacekeepers here… They are not helping us… We don’t want them here. They have to leave. And we need justice, justice for Johnny Jean and the others.
AMY GOODMAN: Ansel, explain what has unfolded, how you got this videotape, and what has happened since.
ANSEL HERZ: In late July – it’s not totally clear exactly what date it occurred – Johnny Jean was assaulted in some form inside the base. That’s what the cell phone video appears to show. And what I’ve understood is that one of the soldiers who was present in that room was making a video of this on his cell phone. He then came outside of the base one day about a week later, and two young Haitian men were walking by the base. They were playing some music on their cell phone. The soldier said, “Hey, I like that music. I’d like it on my phone.” He gave the two Haitian men his phone. These guys were then looking through his phone to see if this soldier had any good music on it. They saw this video on this soldier’s cell phone, and one of the young men recognized his own cousin, Johnny Jean, in that video and was shocked. He transferred that video, using Bluetooth, over to his friend’s phone. And, at that point, the video had gotten out.
Those boys later gave that video to a local journalist and activist. They were later also in a meeting, they told me, with MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti] officials. They told me that the MINUSTAH official who was there denied that this had happened. Then they showed him the video, and he broke out sweating. He was shocked at what he was seeing.
I arrived here in Port Salut on Wednesday [Aug. 31] for the first time. When I arrived, Johnny Jean’s family was making a criminal complaint at the courthouse about this incident. Time had passed, and Johnny Jean had not spoken out about this. I think that he was afraid. His mom said that he stayed in the house for two weeks after it first happened, and she didn’t know what was going on. And then somebody was walking by her house and asked her, “Hey, do you know that MINUSTAH soldiers raped your son?” She was, of course, shocked, and she questioned him. And then they decided to go forward with this criminal complaint. They gave me a copy of the video last Wednesday…
There is a state of tension between the population and the UN troops, especially in light of the fact that these troops brought cholera to Haiti. That’s been documented now by several scientific studies. Nepali UN soldiers in central Haiti somehow brought the disease with them, which is endemic in Nepal, and introduced it through negligent waste disposal into the water system in central Haiti last October. Cholera has since killed over 6,000 Haitians. It’s still an epidemic in the country. There were riots last October against the UN for that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, the protests that have taken place through the weekend, what are people demanding right now?
ANSEL HERZ: There’s a range of demands. Some people want MINUSTAH, the entire force in the country – it’s now about 12,000 soldiers – to simply leave. [MINUSTAH’s Security Council mandate expires on Oct. 15, and Brazil says it will withdraw its troops.] That’s a demand I’ve heard elsewhere in Haiti, as well; it’s not just here in Port Salut. Whether it’s Cite Soleil, which is a very heavily policed slum in Port-au-Prince, whether it’s Cap-Haitien, the northern city where a young man was hung inside a UN base last year, a 17-year-old, and there was never a clear investigation into what happened. The UN claimed that he committed suicide. People here in Port Salut, the opposite end of the country, have spoken about that to me. That’s in their memory. They know that there are these cases where things have not been investigated. So, some people believe that they need to get out of the country right now.
Others are asking that they transform their mission from one of military so-called peacekeeping into development – building roads and schools, helping create the infrastructure that Haiti needs to get back up on its feet after the earthquake, which happened Jan. 12, 2010.
Other people here in Port Salut are more angry with specific problems that they’re having with the UN, like a pool of dirty water that has amassed right next to the sea, right alongside some homes. It’s down the road, basically, from another Uruguayan UN base here in Port Salut. I watched this water actually flow out at night, as the residents told me that it did. This dirty water smells terrible, and it comes out of the base. You can see the canal or the pipes that connect the base that come down to this beach area, and then it just pools up in this foul-looking pool. The residents there say that this pool attracts mosquitoes and is subjecting them to the risk of malaria contraction. One man showed me his young girl, who seemed to have lots of mosquito bites on her arm. So they’re really upset about that. They’ve said they’ve asked MINUSTAH to take care of this, and MINUSTAH hasn’t.
There are other allegations made by the deputy here in Port Salut that women are engaging in food for sex, although that’s unproven. I haven’t been able to find evidence of that.
There’s a fourth thing now. There’s a 17-year-old woman here in Port Salut who has had a child by one of the UN soldiers. Her name is Rosemina Joseph. She’s 17 and she showed me photos of the Uruguayan soldier. His name is Julio. She has a photo with him attending her birthday party. She’s nine months pregnant, and she’s about to give birth this month, she believes Sep. 20, with his child. She doesn’t feel like he’s supporting her the way he should. She doesn’t know if she has the money to pay for the services she’ll need when she gives birth. According to her, this was consensual but she is a minor, and that obviously goes against the regulations that the UN soldiers have.
She’s not the only one who’s engaged in sexual relations with the UN soldiers here. There are two other women that I’ve met now. One is named Narlande Azar. She’s 22. And another is named Odette. These are very poor women. They don’t really have steady work. Narlande and Odette both have had children. One of them is a toddler, six months old, and the other is a little bit older, two years old. They’re light-skinned. You can see that they have hair which comes from a light-skinned person. So there are a range of complaints here in Port Salut against the UN soldiers.
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