The New York Times reported Monday on the lack of accountability for sexual abuse on the part of U.N. peacekeepers around the world, focusing on recent allegations that French soldiers “forced boys to perform oral sex on them” in the Central African Republic. The article notes that the U.N. “does not have the legal authority to prosecute or punish a country’s soldiers,” and cites a recent internal audit that found that despite the organization’s “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual abuse, its enforcement “is hindered by a complex architecture, prolonged delays, unknown and varying outcomes and severely deficient assistance.”
The Times reports that U.N. officials responded by pointing to the U.N.’s response to a case in Haiti, in which Pakistani troops were accused of abusing an underage boy, as a “model of accountability.” HRRW reported on the case in 2012, pointing out a likely cover-up, and in January journalist Kathie Klarreich expanded:
Take the case of the Pakistani contingent of MINUSTAH. In January 2012, several Pakistani soldiers reported to their commanding officer that contingent members were sexually abusing a mentally handicapped 13-year old boy in the town of Gonaives, some 50 miles north of the Port-au-Prince, since he was eight years old, passing his name from contingent to contingent for five years. Following the chain of command, the Pakistani commander should have reported the abuse to MINUSTAH, but he decided to handle it himself, hoping it seems, that it would disappear, since he was also abusing the boy.
UN police quickly ascertained that the Pakistani military had hired two local boys to take the victim away from the town without his mother’s knowledge or permission. They found the boy unharmed: one of the kidnappers escaped but the second, Alexandre Vladimir, was arrested and jailed. Vladimir admitted that the MINUSTAH commander from Pakistan had asked him to remove the boy from the area, and that the Pakistanis had come to his home bearing gifts for his mother: $12 and a sack of rice.
Collecting evidence can be tricky because of bribes, the reluctance or fear on the part of the victim to talk, evidence tampering or lack of evidence. Had the Pakistanis cooperated, the investigation might have concluded in even less time than the unprecedented 36 days. [The U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services] is often criticized for the length of time it takes to complete an investigation – back then, the average was 19 months. Today it’s 18 months.
Even the Haitian Senate became involved as news of [the victim’s] ordeal spread, passing a resolution requesting the trial be held in Haiti.
A UN internal document obtained by 100Reporters confirmed that the UN had agreed with the Pakistani authorities’ request for the nine Pakistanis charged with the rape and abduction of a Haitian minor to be rotated out of the country, but not before three of the officers were subjected to a court-martial in Haiti. While Vladimir served time in a filthy prison in Gonaives, the Haitians offered to build a separate jail to hold the Pakistanis before their trial. But according to a source with knowledge of the meeting, a dinner between the Pakistanis and the Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, resulted instead in the accused being sent home.
The Pakistanis refused the UN’s request that it dispatch a senior government official to Haiti, and insisted that the court-martial, conducted by members of the national contingent who themselves were implicated in the allegations, be closed to outsiders. It was, the UN said, “[A] military justice procedure…undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan.”
The UN “also received verbal assurances from the Permanent Representative of Pakistan that he would see that the Government of Pakistan provide compensation to Haitian victims, if any,” according to a confidential UN cable to the Haiti peacekeeping contingent.
Instead of showcasing this investigation, the UN let it fizzle out, away from public view. No public court martial, no compensation for the victim. Pakistani troops continued then, as they do now, to rotate through peacekeeping missions, unperturbed.
Anthony Banbury, the U.N. assistant secretary general for field support, told the Times, “People can always say punishment was too light or whatever, but the system worked as it should.”
If that’s how the system “should” work, then the U.N. has a long way yet to go.
It is also interesting that U.N. officials would point to anything related to MINUSTAH as a means of showing greater accountability. To begin with, MINUSTAH is at the heart of multiple legal battles over responsibility for introducing the deadly cholera virus into Haiti in 2010, killing nearly 9,000. Further, MINUSTAH has been one of the largest sources of sexual abuse allegations for U.N. troop missions worldwide, accounting for about 25 percent of such allegations in 2013 and 2014. As we have noted in detail, these are not just allegations; some assaults have been documented on video, and the phenomenon of “MINUSTAH babies” has become another, related scandal. Through the first three months of 2015, MINUSTAH accounted for 45 percent of all sexual abuse allegations against U.N. troops worldwide, despite accounting for less than 7 percent of all “peacekeeping” staff as of March 2015 (PDF).