September 03, 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.
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.”
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.
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 signi?cant 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.”
Update (Sept 4):
The news agency EFE reports (in Spanish) that Alberto Caramés, commander of the Uruguayan Navy, has relieved the chief of the Uruguayan naval contingent in Haiti from his post today and has ordered the immediate repatriation of the five Navy soldiers shown in the ABC video, which was released on Friday. It also explains that the Uruguayan Navy is undertaking a parallel investigation to those ordered by both UN and Haitian authorities. This includes the creation of a Council on Military Discipline in Haiti.
The Uruguayan newspaper El País also notes that Javier Garcia, a member of parliament, has demanded the troops’ repatriation, discharge and arraignment. Below are translated excerpts from the piece, which includes a number of noteworthy points:
The audio [of the cell phone video] allows one to hear the soldiers’ roars of laughter…and some unintelligible comments. However, one of them can clearly be heard saying, “Stop, I’m putting it in.”?
[The Uruguayan Navy spokesperson] said that the directive of Caramés is “to implement the maximum penalties under the code of conduct, including a dishonorable discharge from the Navy units and the loss of pension rights.” The Navy spokesman admitted that the episode “affects the image” of the Uruguayan troops deployed in the mission in Haiti, where Uruguay has 900 troops.
He added that the UN, in its preliminary findings, concluded that “an intent to sexually assault was not apparent, considering the disposition of the crew members, who were all dressed. It was a bad joke, in the wrong place at the wrong time.”?
Nevertheless, the [United Nations] determined that there was a violation to the UN Code by “allowing the entry of a local resident into the military area.”
Meanwhile, Haitian authorities opened an investigation against four Navy soldiers…for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old, said Paul Tarte, a judge on the island, on Friday.
The judge handling the case told [Agence France-Presse] that they were investigating the youth’s testimony and images of the incident…The judge added that medical evidence of the attack on the boy was obtained.
“Having seen the evidence, we’ve given the case to prosecutors to take action,” Tarte said.