Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Beginning of the End: Anti-Rape Campaign

RH Reality Check

Nine months after doom’s day, the Haitian consciousness is perplexed, traumatized and scattered. Reality has settled in: there will neither be Moses nor his wand at the sea of debris. Sparks of progress are sporadic, but gradually painting a postmodern, post-quake impression. In addition, Haitians grow increasingly wary of parliament and presidential elections on Nov. 28, 2010, which could mean another opportunity for a power grab given the frail state of the country. There is growing unrest in the displacement camps as the residents grow anxious over land disputes in the capital while other parts of the country have yet to see any pragmatic recovery efforts.

Nevertheless, the vulnerable and voiceless victims received some good news in September when Edmund Mulet, head of the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, announced the anti-rape campaign. He noted there was a public relations campaign currently under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rapes and other sexual attacks. Among its various target publics is the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which –Mulet noted– was undergoing additional training to handle rape and sexual violence at the camps.

Just over two years ago, on June 19, 2008, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adoptedResolution 1820 emphasizing, “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” The text of the resolution affirmed the Council’s readiness to, where necessary, adopt steps to address systematic sexual violence deliberately targeting civilians, or as a part of a widespread campaign against civilian populations. However, it has taken nine months and scores of women and children victims before Haiti saw the emergence of an anti-rape campaign.

Arguably, Haiti is not a “war-ravaged” country, yet the apocalyptic catastrophes are not dissimilar: piles of rubble make up the landscape, millions displaced in unsecured camps and thousands of women and children victimized by assailants. Furthermore, there are thousands of foreign military personnel roaming the streets and a government struggling to find itself. Mulet acknowledged the nearly impossible odds his forces face. Only a 200-member U.N. police force maintains a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, he complained to the Associated Press. Even with a highly trained MINUSTAH, such ratio does little to protect the victims and may even encourage criminal behaviors.

While a public relation campaign and training are essential to raise awareness and eventually help eradicate the problem, many complained that the initiative was shortsighted. The plan offered no details about apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators. There was no mention of the role the legislative body or any human right legislation. He made no reference about any coping mechanism to aid the victims with their post traumatic ordeals, many of who are pregnant teens. In addition, foreign peacekeepers could not respond to violent situations with any degree of certainty because of language barriers, another deterrent to tangible solutions. As U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice argued, efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence « must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process. » She did however describe the plan as a ”positive” step in the right direction.

In a recent turn of events, many now blame post-quake conditions and institutional weaknesses for the resurgence of gang activities that are typical of governmental instability and election seasons in Haiti. The Aspen Daily News reported the kidnapping – at gunpoint– of Gilbert Chenet, a 50-year-old engineer for Mercy & Sharing on Sept. 14. Chenet’s role, in the wake of the earthquake, has been instrumental to the Aspen-based nonprofit organization. He oversaw rehabilitative processes of the organization’s damaged schools and orphanages. Two days later, Chenet was released after his family raised and paid a ransom to the kidnappers.

These troubling developments may be indicative of future criminal behavioral trends. In addition to the women and children at the camps, violence could spill over into the relief community, actions that could pose a grave threat to an already slow recovery process. Hence, any plan addressing these atrocities must be robust and capable of halting perilous circumstances years after the foreign forces leave Haiti. U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham echoed those sentiments saying the U.N force « must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities » so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops « as the main providers of security » in the country.

Resolution 1820 refers to rapes and gendered-based violence as “a tactic used to humiliate, dominate, instill fear, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”.  It also stresses that such violence could significantly exacerbate conflicts and impede peace processes, or in the case of Haiti, derail the rebuilding process completely. With such strong language, many Haitians argued, the lack of an immediate response from the United Nations to increasing violence in displacement camps is unjustifiable.

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