By Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
September 2, 2011
ABC News released an explosive report today which appears to confirm one of many allegations that Haitians have been making for weeks regarding gross sexual misconduct by Uruguayan peacekeeping forces who participate in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Journalist Ansel Herz, reporting from Port Salut, uncovered a disturbing scene recorded on a cell phone video, showing the Spanish-speaking troops in sky-blue hats and military fatigues laughing as they pin an 18-year-old Haitian youth down on a mattress on the floor, and–as a photograph captured from the video seems to suggest–sexually assault him.
According to the ABC article, Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego confirmed that the video was real, but dismissed charges of assault, construing the incident as a nonsexual “game” of “bullying.” However, a medical certificate filed with the court in Haiti and acquired by ABC News belies his interpretation of video’s the events: the examiner asserted that the alleged victim was beaten and sustained “injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted.” When interviewed, the youth described being “snatched from behind as he walked by the U.N. base.” The young man’s mother, a street merchant, stated that he “had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him. We’re humiliated…After I saw the video, I couldn’t stop crying.”
While largely focusing on one particular case of purported sexual assault, ABC News does seem to independently corroborate these complaints raised in the Uruguayan news media: “Sinal Bertrand, a Haitian parliamentary deputy from the Port Salut area, said he began talks with U.N. officials last week about other allegations against the soldiers by residents of Port Salut, ranging from sexually exploiting young women to environmentally polluting the area.” ABC also interviewed a local mechanic in Port Salut who denies that the troops provide more security: “They aren’t useful to us at all…They just go back and forth to the beach, nothing more here in Port Salut. They just check out the young girls.”
Whereas the Uruguayan mission in New York failed to respond to ABC’s requests for comment, a Spanish-language report published two days ago says the Uruguayan Ministry of Defense ordered another “urgent investigation”–independent of those launched earlier in August–to determine the veracity of accusations specifically related to the “aberrant acts” against the Haitian youth who is the subject of the ABC story. If proven accurate, the Uruguayan government promised to apply the “maximum sanction” possible against the perpetrators.
The new complaint occurs a few days after an internal investigation and another carried out by the UN determined that there were no Uruguayan troops implicated in other acusations of purported sexual abuses against the Haitian population.Earlier on Wednesday, at the end of a training course for officials in the UN peacekeeping mission, [Uruguayan Defense Minister] Fernandez Huidobro said that “in such a large number of people, there will always be someone who behaves wrongly,” but “don’t let those minor failures rob you of your faith in what you are doing, nor should you allow the criticisms you hear prevent you all from believing in yourselves.”
“This visit shows the close cooperation that exists between Uruguay and the U.S. in important foreign affairs for both countries…Your impressive contributions to UN peacekeeping have turned you into an undisputed leader on issues of international peace and security.”
Brimmer’s statements to Uruguayan government officials closely conform to former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson’s recommendations in 2008, released by Wikileaks, for bolstering MINUSTAH’s long-term prospects: “The Department [of State] and Embassies in Latin countries contributing troops should work to ensure these countries’ continuing support for MINUSTAH.” As we noted last week, Sanderson considered the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti “an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti”:
In the current context of our military commitments elsewhere, the U.S. alone could not replace this mission. This regionally-coordinated Latin American commitment to Haiti would not be possible without the UN umbrella. That same umbrella helps other major donors — led by Canada and followed up by the EU, France, Spain, Japan and others — justify their bilateral assistance domestically. Without a UN-sanctioned peacekeeping and stabilization force, we would be getting far less help from our hemispheric and European partners in managing Haiti.
From the standpoint of the Haitian people, who have previously been victims of widespread sexual violations at the hands of Sri Lankan MINUSTAH troops, this would be a welcome development. UN peacekeepers engaging in criminal activity benefit from an opaque legal framework that provides them with broad immunity and fosters a culture of impunity.
The [Status Of Forces Agreement] SOFA grants broad immunity to members of MINUSTAH for crimes committed in Haiti. Civilian members of MINUSTAH can only be prosecuted for crimes committed in Haiti by mutual agreement of the [Government of Haiti] GOH and the Special Representative. Military members of MINUSTAH are subject to their home country’s exclusive jurisdiction. The Haitian Constitution specifically provides that ordinary courts of law can hear cases of disputes between military personnel and civilians. But MINUSTAH members are only subject to civil liability for acts committed in Haiti if the Special Representative certifies the charges are unrelated to the member’s official duties. The SOFA’s lack of any real accountability for civil or criminal human rights violations of MINUSTAH members violates the GOH’s obligations to ensure universal human rights and equal protection under the law.
In a 2005 article [PDF] published in the journal Politics and Ethics Review, Professor of Government Andrew Ladley argues that “[e]ven if there are ‘laws’ of varying sorts prohibiting certain conduct, the accountability regime is inadequate in at least six main respects:
(1) To the extent that perpetrators might be liable to prosecution in their home countries for offences committed on UN service abroad, there are major inconsistencies between different countries’ legal systems as to what exactly is an offence.(2) There are major gaps in legal jurisdiction as regards civilians, compared with military personnel.(3) There are signiﬁcant differences in jurisdiction, capacity and willingness of countries to hold their troops or civilians accountable.(4) Even if there were uniform willingness to prosecute back home (and jurisdiction covering both military and civilians), it is often impractical to get reliable evidence to enforce criminal laws back home if the events took place abroad.(5) The possibility of lifting UN immunity and subjecting a person to the local courts and punishment systems is often either impractical or would raise major other human rights questions about fair process and punishment.(6) The UN’s own sanctions are essentially ’employment-related’, rather than criminal.”