In a letter to UN Security Council Members, a coalition of human rights organizations led by the Disaster Law Project raised concern about the risk of “sexual exploitation and abuse” related to proposed calls for armed intervention in Haiti.
The full text of the letter is available as a PDF and below:
Joint Letter to Ambassadors to the UN Security Council
December 09, 2022
RE: Proposed Armed Intervention in Haiti; Accountability for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
We are writing in response to the Secretary General’s call for armed intervention in Haiti, following a request from Haiti’s de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry for international assistance to address the country’s ongoing humanitarian and security crisis.
We are a coalition of human rights advocates, including Haitian organizations, that work to advance women’s rights and equality. Many of us have worked directly on issues related to accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse [“SEA”] perpetrated by foreign military and humanitarian actors. Though we hold varying positions on the appropriateness of an armed intervention in Haiti, we share a common concern regarding systemic failures to safeguard women and children from rape and other forms of abuse during prior interventions. We therefore call on member states to ensure that SEA is addressed through appropriate accountability mechanisms, should authorization be given for international armed intervention in Haiti.
SEA is a recurring problem in peacekeeping and security interventions. Between 2004 and 2016, the UN received nearly 2000 reports of child rape, armed sexual assault, and transactional sex involving UN peacekeepers deployed from 20 different countries, across multiple peacekeeping missions. Allegations have also been made against personnel deployed outside of UN peacekeeping operations. Incidents in both contexts are more common than reported, prosecutions are rare, and victims seldom have access to effective legal remedies or social support.
As the UN has acknowledged, peacekeeping operations in Haiti rank among the highest in the world for recorded incidents of SEA. “MINUSTAH” personnel routinely engaged in exploitive relationships with Haitian women living in extreme poverty and deprivation, and coerced children into having sex in exchange for a few coins or a piece of bread. Media investigations show that hundreds of women and girls became pregnant as a result – some as young as 11 years old – and gave birth to children ultimately abandoned by peacekeepers who fathered them. These incidents often occurred against the backdrop of a deadly cholera epidemic also linked to the presence of MINUSTAH peacekeepers.
Women impregnated by peacekeepers have been rejected by their families and stigmatized within their communities for giving birth to “petit minustah” – depriving them of critical social support, and forcing many to resort to “survival sex” to meet their basic needs. Meanwhile, forums to establish paternity or to petition for child support remain out of reach for most Haitian victims of peacekeeper exploitation and abuse.
MINUSTAH contingents were also accused of committing depraved and humiliating acts of sexual violence against children, often without facing meaningful consequences. A group of peacekeepers reportedly gang-raped a teenage boy while filming the assault on a cell-phone. Members of a foreign police unit allegedly raped a 13 year-old repeatedly over the course of a year, then kidnapped the boy to prevent him from speaking with investigators. More than 130 peacekeepers participated in a child sex-ring that involved children as young as 12 being passed from one peacekeeper to the next, and forced to have sex several times a day, with multiple men – including senior military officers. The UN repatriated several troops implicated in the abuse, but continued to receive personnel from the contributing country into peacekeeping missions. According to media reports, none of the responsible troops were criminally prosecuted.
There is a lack of clarity on what form an armed intervention in Haiti would take if it is approved, or which countries would contribute participating personnel. But the history of SEA associated with MINUSTAH demonstrates the need to center accountability in any future international deployment to Haiti, whether or not the deployment is an official UN peacekeeping mission.
This week commemorates “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.” In line with that effort, we call on member states to ensure accountability for SEA by requiring that any resolution to approve armed intervention in Haiti include the following conditions:
- An express acknowledgement that SEA falls outside the scope of UN official duties, which renders legal immunity inapplicable to related claims;
- Implementation of an independent and accessible mechanism for receiving complaints of sexual exploitation and abuse;
- A demonstrated commitment from contributing countries to meaningfully investigate claims of sexual exploitation and abuse, prosecute credible claims, and facilitate access to civil remedies and restitution;
- Implementation of mechanisms to determine paternity that are easily accessible at no cost to mothers claiming that their child was fathered by foreign personnel;
- An agreement by member states to impose and enforce parental obligations from personnel found to have fathered children, and to enforce relevant foreign judgments; and
- Full transparency regarding funding and spending of the Office of the Victims’ Rights Advocates and the “Victims Trust Fund” on matters related to SEA in Haiti, including a full financial and operational after-action audit that is publicly available.
There is no question that current conditions in Haiti are not sustainable for local populations. But an armed international response that risks repeating the harms associated with past interventions demonstrates the need for adequate safeguards to address the prevalence of, and lack of accountability for, SEA in Haiti.
AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue Campaign
Ansara Family Fund
Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux
Cashman Family Foundation
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
Congregation of the Mission
Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul
Diaspora Community Services
Dignity Rights International
Disaster Law Project
Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Professor of Law, University of Murcia, Spain
Edmund Rice International
Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum
Highland Park United Methodist Church
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School
International Human Rights Program (IHRP), University of Toronto Faculty of Law
International Presentation Association
Li Li Li Read
NDSC (Les Religieuses de Notre-Dame du Sacré Coeur)
School Sisters of Notre Dame, Atlantic-Midwest Province
School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central-Pacific Province
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregational Leadership
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Western Province Leadership
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
The Episcopal Church
Upendra Dev Acharya, Professor of Law & Director of Global Legal Education, Gonzaga University Law School