Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has apologised to his Haitian counterpart Michel Martelly over the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan UN peacekeeping troops in the poor Caribbean state.
Public outrage in Haiti has surged over a video shot by a mobile phone and circulating on the internet that apears to show laughing Uruguayan marines pinning the young Haitian face down on a mattress and apparently sexually assaulting him.
“We apologise for the abuse that some soldiers of my country perpetrated,” Mujica wrote in a letter to Martelly on Tuesday.
“Although the damage is irreparable, have the certainty that we will investigate thoroughly and apply the harshest sanctions against those responsible.”
Mujica also apologised on behalf of the country’s armed forces, which he said were humiliated by “the criminal and embarrassing behaviour by a few” soldiers.
Defence Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, who also signed the letter, said earlier that Uruguay would compensate the alleged victim, Johnny Jean.
Jean and his mother, Rose Marie Jean, told Haitian radio stations he had been raped by Uruguayan marines and provided testimony to a judge in the southern town of Port-Salut, where the incident allegedly took place on July 28.
Martelly has said the perpetrators of what he called “a collective rape carried out against a young Haitian” would not go unpunished.
There are now at least three investigations into the video: one by the Haitian authorities; one by the UN Mission in Haiti; and one by Uruguay’s defence ministry.
The four troops suspected of being involved have been detained and Uruguay’s navy has replaced the head of its naval contingent within the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH.
In a preliminary report, the UN ruled out that Jean was raped but said blue-helmet peacekeepers broke rules when they allowed a civilian to enter a military camp.
UN peacekeepers in Haiti have faced public anger before, especially over allegations that Nepalese UN troops brought a deadly cholera epidemic to the country after their camp latrines contaminated a local river.
This triggered riots last year against the 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping contingent.
MINUSTAH was established by the UN Security Council in 2004 and headed by Brazil.
It has been helping Haiti’s short-staffed and ill-equipped police to maintain security in the volatile Caribbean state, especially during elections plagued by fraud and violence.
Brazil said on Tuesday it wantsed to reduce its peacekeeping force, with Celso Amorim, the country’s defence minister, telling BBC Brasil that keeping the troops in Haiti will not benefit the country in the long term.