February 26, 2010
Reuters reports on the U.N. Peacekeepers’s response in the days after the earthquake, reporting a detrimental focus on security.
One member of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division told Reuters:
“The only time I’ve seen one of these U.N. troops jump out of the back of a truck was to beat up on somebody or take a shot at them,”
There were 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti before the quake, and although they suffered significant loses as well, including the death of the head of the mission, Reuters writes:
Initially, however, none of the peacekeepers appeared to be involved in hands-on humanitarian relief in what emergency medical experts describe as the critical first 72 hours after a devastating earthquake strikes.
Their response to the appalling suffering was limited to handling security and looking for looters after the magnitude 7.0 quake leveled much of the capital and took what Haitian President Rene Preval says could be as many as 300,000 lives.
There was looting in the capital, but it paled in comparison with the severity of the humanitarian crisis.
Even after the critical period right after the quake, U.N. peacekeepers continued their emphasis on security:
But in the days and weeks that followed it often seemed that lessons from other disasters were ignored in Haiti as fears of rioting or lawlessness overshadowed concerns about getting aid out quickly.
Asked about their prioritization of security over humanitarian needs, Edmond Mulet, head of the U.N. mission and known for his “iron fist” in cracking down on Haitian gangs, said:
“I still have to patrol, I still have to go after all these criminals and bandits that escaped from the national penitentiary, the gang leaders, the criminals, the killers, the kidnappers. I cannot really distract myself from doing that.”
The article notes the peacekeepers have a “reputation for toughness and abuse more than for easing suffering.”
Heavy-handed assaults by MINUSTAH forces have in the past resulted in dead civilians and scores of others injured. The most notorious incident was the July 6, 2005 assault on Cité Soleil by UN troops, with the stated goal of eliminating gang leader “Dred” Wilme, which resulted in dozens of civilian residents killed or wounded, including children and infants. Eyewitness claim that UN troops were directly responsible – not police or anyone else. Cité Soleil residents showed photographs of victims to New York Times reporters, and the Haiti Information Project gathered video footage and conducted interviews with witnesses just after the massacre.
The UN later admitted “it was possible that civilians were injured”, as the Village Voice reported, and launched an investigation. According to declassified cables sent that day from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince to the State Department, UN troops fired 22,000 shots in seven hours in a neighborhood where many people live in structures made of flimsy sheet metal.
The Cité Soleil raid was not an isolated incident. Similar MINUSTAH operations that left civilians dead or injured have been documented by human rights investigators and the media. On December 22, 2006, for example, MINUSTAH troops staged another raid on Cité Soleil in which, according to the Associated Press, at least five people were killed (Reuters estimated 20). More recently, on June 18, 2009, UN troops fired shots outside the funeral of Fanmi Lavalas leader Father Gerard Jean-Juste, and minutes later one of the funeral attendees lay dying from head injuries. AP reported that “Witnesses at the scene said the man was shot in the head, and that protesters had thrown rocks at the U.N. troops. Associated Press reporters saw the man lying motionless in a pool of blood moments after the gunshots rang out.” AP also noted that “None of the protesters were seen holding guns…” Haiti Information Project video of the incident appears to show UN troops firing towards the crowd, even though MINUSTAH claims it only fired “warning shots” in the air.
On November 10, 2009, MINUSTAH troops fired on a crowd of people in Grand Goave, injuring a 50-year-old man, Rinvil Jean Weldy, in the arm. In September, “a social leader in the Port-Au-Prince slum of Bel-Air,” claimed he was sodomized and beaten following his arrest by MINUSTAH. Inter Press Service reported that “The U.N.’s internal investigation cleared the troops of any wrongdoing and charged [the man] with fabricating parts of his story.” But Mario Joseph, a human rights lawyer with Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, told Inter Press, “It’s their tactic: ‘All people in Haiti are liars for MINUSTAH’,” he said.