Peacekeepers in Haiti face sex attack inquiry

The United Nations is investigating an alleged sexual assault on an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan soldiers.

ansel herz haiti UN sexual assault abuse rape screenshot
ansel herz haiti UN sexual assault abuse rape screenshot
ansel herz haiti UN sexual assault abuse rape screenshot
Mobile phone video of an alleged sex attack appears to show men wearing UN-style blue caps [Ansel Herz]

The UN is investigating accusations that Uruguayan soldiers serving with the world body’s peacekeeping force in Haiti sexually assaulted an 18-year-old man after alleged footage of the incident was circulated in the country on mobile phones.

“We’re aware of this alleged incident. As soon as it was brought to our attention we immediately launched an internal investigation,” Eliana Nabaa, spokeswoman for the UN’s Haiti peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, said on Friday.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse and we take it extremely seriously. If the allegations are proved, the soldiers must be brought to justice,” she said.

A Haitian magistrate told the AFP news agency on Friday that he had turned the case over to prosecutors after viewing the evidence and after the alleged victim and his parents gave depositions in a courthouse in Port Salut, the southern seaside town where the alleged sex attack is said to have occurred.

He said he was also investigating allegations of sexual relations between Uruguayan peacekeepers and young Haitian females who had become pregnant.

Uruguay’s defence ministry earlier this week ordered an “urgent investigation” into allegations that its troops had committed “aberrant acts” against a Haitian.

Uruguay contributes 1,110 soldiers and police officers to the UN’s more than 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in Haiti, according to UN figures released in July.

The one-minute video, which has circulated on dozens of mobile phones in Port Salut, pans out from a sideways close-up of the alleged victim’s strained face to reveal his body being held down on a mattress by light-skinned men wearing camouflage-coloured clothes.

Some of them are seen wearing sky-blue caps in the style of those worn by UN peacekeeping forces. As the men’s laughter grows in volume, a shirtless soldier kneels behind the man, slaps him and appears to thrust towards him.

The video ends as the bedraggled young man is grabbed by the arm and pulled onto his feet.

Nabaa said the UN inquiry had not yet proven the video’s authenticity, but that “the results of the investigation will determine the facts”.

Allegations of misconduct

The alleged victim’s mother, a street merchant, showed the reporter a pair of black trousers torn across the front crotch area in the back room of the courthouse.

As the 18-year-old and his mother filed their depositions, the father, a fisherman, sat quietly. The family has accused two soldiers of twice sexually assaulting their son.

The alleged victim told the reporter that the incident had occurred on July 18 at about 4pm as he was on his way home.

“I was walking by the base, when a soldier who I didn’t see came from behind and took me inside,” he said. “They started beating me outside, but when they got inside they used me,” he said.

His mother said she found out about the alleged attack when someone asked her, “Do you know that MINUSTAH [the UN peacekeeping force] soldiers raped your son?”

She says she called her son and questioned him.

“He told me the reason he didn’t tell me is that he didn’t want me to punish him, because I used to tell him not to walk near the base. He said there were four of them, two holding him down with his hands behind his back,” she said. The two others had assaulted him, she said.

“He had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him,” she said. “After they compensate us, my family has to leave. We’re humiliated … After I saw the video, I couldn’t stop crying.”

Video was ‘a joke’

A medical examination on Tuesday revealed healing lacerations consistent with a sex attack, a local doctor said.

Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego, the local base commander, said that the video was real, but called the abuse in the video “a game, a joke,” and said it was not sexual in nature.

He spoke through the barbed-wire-topped fence that lines the base where the incident is said to have taken place. 

“It’s a young guy who is normally around here, like these people,” he said, pointing to a Haitian family sitting outside their home 20 metres away.

“He sometimes insults the guys, and after several times [the soldiers] tried to make a show to say something.” He also said the soldiers engaged in “some kind of bullying, but nothing more”.

He added, “This kind of conduct is highly penalised in Uruguay. Because it’s not the normal behaviour of our troops.”

‘Port Salut is going to revolt’

Trash from the UN base dumped on the coast
of Port Salut 
[Ansel Herz]

Ernso Valentin, a local Haitian radio journalist and activist, said the incident was just the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s the UN itself that has a responsibility to compensate the victim,” Valentin said. “Not only the victim – they have to compensate Port Salut because they’ve committed anti-social actions here.

“Michel Martelly [the Haitian president] needs to take this case very seriously. They should put [the soldiers] in front of the Haitian justice system immediately, because Port Salut is going to revolt and riot.”

Sinal Bertrand, a Haitian parliamentary deputy from the Port Salut area, said he had began talks with MINUSTAH officials about environmental problems they had created in the area and the alleged sex attack.

He also said that prostitution in the town had become a problem.

“Whenever there are foreigners in an area in our country, there’s prostitution. This has happened in Port Salut. We’ve denounced it already,” Bertrand said. “If they don’t collaborate with the justice system, I’ll denounce them,” he said. “I’m expecting MINUSTAH to respond, until there’s justice.”

Source: Al Jazeera