Uruguay has announced the dismissal of a navy commander with the United Nations mission in Haiti after a video was circulated of an alleged sexual assault on a young Haitian man by members of a Uruguayan peacekeeping unit.
The defence ministry said on Sunday in a statement that it had begun a “repatriation of the troops involved” in the incident.
In addition to the dismissal of the navy commander – who was not immediately named – a military justice board had been convened and paperwork was started to arrange for the return home of the five soldiers allegedly involved.
“The navy wants to go beyond the simple fact of the video [to determine] if there are other violations of conduct,” Sergio Bique, the spokesman, told local media. The suspects will be tried and sentenced appropriately, he stressed.
The Uruguayan defence ministry last week ordered an “urgent investigation” into allegations that its troops had committed “aberrant acts,” after video footage surfaced allegedly showing the soldiers sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man.
Haitian President Michel Martelly said on Sunday that he “vigorously condemned” the actions of those involved, asking the relevant authorities to meet with UN officials to prevent “such acts” from happening, a statement from his office said.
Video ‘copied via Bluetooth’
Ansel Herz, a journalist in Port Salut, where the incident is alleged to have occurred, said the video footage was passed around via mobile phones after two Haitian men saw the video and copied it while they were exchanging music with a Ururguayan soldier via Bluetooth.
Video contains images viewers may find disturbing
“The video was originally taken by a UN soldier who was there at the time,” he told Al Jazeera.
On Friday, a Haitian magistrate said he had turned the case over to prosecutors after the alleged victim and his mother gave depositions.
“Everybody was watching this video in the court case as the mother was making a complaint against these soldiers,” said Herz.
The one-minute long video 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.
Eliana Nabaa, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Haiti peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, said on Friday that the UN inquiry had not yet proven the video’s authenticity, but that an investigation was under way to “determine the facts”.
In Sunday’s statement, the Uruguayan defence ministry said its investigation would determine the reponsibility of those allegedly involved and punish them “with greater severity and rigour”.
“The Navy did not allow or permit a few members who commit transgressions of this kind, affecting the high prestige and excellent relations with local people, virtues which have characterised the performance of the Armed Forces throughout its rich history serving on peacekeeping missions under the UN mandate,” the statement added.
Uruguay contributes 1,110 soldiers and police officers to the UN’s more than 12,000-strong peacekeeping force in Haiti.