March 13, 2012
The UN announced today that three Pakistani officers were found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse. Although the UN did not discuss many specifics, Reuters reported earlier that two members of the UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) had “been sentenced to a year in prison for raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy.” Reuters also notes that:
It was the first time that members of the U.N. military on deployment in Haiti have been tried and sentenced within its borders.
The Haitian government had previously requested the lifting of immunity for the Pakistani officers and the Senate passed a resolution requesting they be tried in Haitian courts. Yet, while the trial was held in Haiti, it was a “military justice procedure…undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan.” Those found guilty will serve their sentence in Pakistan. As Reuters reports, “Haitian government authorities were given no advance notice of the military tribunal.” Had the Pakistani police officers been tried in a Haitian court they likely would have faced much harsher penalties. Haiti’s Justice Minister, Michel Brunache told Reuters it was a “small” step, adding:
“We expected more from the U.N. and the Pakistani government, but now we want to focus on the proper reparation that the victim deserves.”
The case is but the latest in a long string of sexual abuse cases involving MINUSTAH personnel. In 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan MINUSTAH soldiers were repatriated (PDF) after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls”. To this date no information on if they were ever prosecuted has been made public. More recently, five Uruguayan MINUSTAH troops were repatriated and jailed after a cell phone video showing them sexual assaulting a young Haitian man was reported by the press. The soldiers have since been released from jail and the trial has stalled.
This case, however, differs from the Sri Lanka and Uruguay cases in that the abuse involved members of a Formed Police Unit rather than military personnel. Of the 11,241 MINUSTAH personnel in Haiti, 3,542 are police. The UN announced the case in January, noting a significant difference from previous cases of sexual abuse my MINUSTAH troops:
However, unlike cases involving UN military contingent personnel, investigations into allegations involving UN police fall under the responsibility of the United Nations. For this reason, a team was dispatched to Haiti, on 21 January 2012, to investigate these allegations with the utmost determination
Despite the UN’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse, they have few means to actually ensure legal prosecution of troops as the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting abuses falls on the troop contributing country. In the case of Formed Police Units (PDF), the UN has the power to investigate, 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.” Although Pakistan was responsible for the disciplinary action, it is unclear if it was prompted by the UN investigation. It seems likely, however, that because the guilty officers were police rather than soldiers, the UN had a greater ability to influence the case and actually enforce their “zero tolerance” policy. Still, the circumstances in which the Pakistani officers’ abuses were investigated and prosecuted remain murky at best. The UN could take an important step toward fostering an environment of transparency and accountability by releasing their internal investigation into the rape committed by the Pakistani police officers, and clarifying their role in the prosecution.