July 13, 2012
In March, three Pakistani MINUSTAH troops were found guilty, sentenced to one year in prison and repatriated for the rape of a 14-year old Haitian boy. Although the trial was held on Haitian soil, it was a “military justice procedure…undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan,” according to the UN. Additionally, Reuters reported at the time that “Haitian government authorities were given no advance notice of the military tribunal.” Had the troops faced a Haitian court, their sentences would likely have been much longer. Had the troops had to face Haitian justice they may also have had to respond to further allegations that the Pakistani UN Mission tried to cover-up the crime, going so far as to kidnap the victim.
While some Haitian media and blogs picked up the story at the time, little has been written about the attempted cover-up. Independent journalist Kathie Klarreich, who recently traveled to Gonaïves where the crime took place, mentioned the cover-up in a larger piece about MINUSTAH scandals for the Christian Science Monitor. Klarreich has now provided new details to HRRW on what happened, raising even more questions about the level of impunity for UN troops in Haiti and just how widespread these abuses are. While the Haitian police have witnesses and evidence tying MINUSTAH to the cover-up of rape, the UN has apparently not been cooperative and has failed to adequately investigate and hold accountable those responsible.
The UN first disclosed the case in January, announcing that an investigative team would be heading to Haiti. In February, as the circumstances around the case became clearer, Senator Youri Latortue took to the airwaves to call for the lifting of immunity for MINUSTAH and to denounce the apparent cover-up that was executed by the Pakistani contingent. After witnesses of the abuse went to local police, the 14-year-old boy was kidnapped and taken to a MINUSTAH base in Cap- Haïtien with the “objective to prevent the continuation of the investigation” according to Latortue. On January 26, 2012, police arrested Vladimir Alexandre, a local Haitian, for being an accomplice to the kidnapping. Another alleged accomplice is still at large. While the “military tribunal” was conducted behind closed doors and the guilty members of MINUSTAH whisked out of the country, the local case in the city of Gonaïves has gone nowhere.
Alexandre, speaking with Klarreich, defended himself, telling her, “All I did was show them where he [the victim] lived. I don’t know anything about taking him anywhere,” adding that he didn’t receive anything from the soldiers in return. But Klarreich said that what he told her directly contradicts what he had told police when they arrested him. According to a copy of his testimony which Klarreich read, Alexandre admitted that he knew the boy, that he’d been in contact with the Pakistani MINUSTAH troops, and that he and the other accomplice had agreed to remove the boy from the area. He also admits that the Pakistanis came to his home bearing gifts for his mother – $100 Haitian Gourdes ($12 US) and a sack of rice.
Alexandre remains in the police station jail, held in a room with 111 other prisoners. The Gonaïves police chief told Klarreich that according to Haitian law, Alexandre could be held for up to two months but if no charges were brought then legally he should be allowed to go free. “I am not here to judge,” the police chief said, “but rather to make sure that the justice system works. Let’s remove the obstacles and finish this case.” The local officials in charge of the case continue to seek answers, while the lawyers for the victim continue to seek compensation from the United Nations.
Military Tribunal Covers-Up the Cover-Up
This case was different than some of the other high-profile MINUSTAH abuse cases in that this time it involved members of a Formed Police Unit (FPU) rather than military personnel. Unlike cases involving military, the United Nations can investigate misconduct of FPU’s, but “responsibility for disciplinary action in these units rests with the commanders of the national units, who must keep the Head of Mission fully informed in all disciplinary matters.”
In the case of the Pakistani FPU, the unit commander was accused by Latortue of complicity in the boy’s kidnapping. Although HRRW can’t confirm that the specific commander that Latortue accused was the person responsible for disciplinary action, the possible involvement of higher-ups within the Pakistani unit would clearly compromise any sense of impartiality.
In early February, the Haitian government wrote a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, requesting he lift immunity, enabling those accused of rape of being tried in a Haitian court. The Haitian Senate followed suit by unanimously approving a resolution requesting the same. However UNSG Ban Ki-moon did not fulfill the request, despite the fact that it appears he had the power to do so. According to UN Department of Peacekeeping Policy:
As “Experts on Mission”, members of FPUs are inter alia “…immune from personal arrest or detention” and are immune from legal process of any kind “in respect of words spoken or written and acts done by them in the course of the performance of their mission”. However, the Secretary-General has “…the right and the duty to waive the immunity of any expert in any case where, in his opinion, the immunity would impede the course of justice and it can be waived without prejudice to the interests of the United Nations”.
Rather than lift immunity and let the details of the case become public, the tribunal was held behind closed doors. Le Nouvelliste reported in May that the local authorities in Gonaïves investigating the case, and even the victim’s family only learned of the tribunal through the media. While the three rapists have been repatriated and are serving short jail sentences, the MINUSTAH accomplices in the cover-up have not been held responsible. In responding to Klarreich’s piece in the Christian Science Monitor, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Haiti, Mariano Fernández Amunátegui addressed the sexual abuse allegations:
I will not evade the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, against which the United Nations are committed to enforce its zero tolerance policy. They are outrageous and totally unacceptable, and they are severely punished. Impunity does not prevail.
Yet, while the UN has sought to portray this and other acts of sexual abuse as simple cases of “a few bad apples”, the possible involvement of higher level MINUSTAH officials and multiple bases to cover-up a rape should raise serious questions about the commitment to accountability and “zero tolerance” on the part of the UN.