The United Nations is investigating an alleged sexual assault on an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan soldiers.
|Uruguayan peacekeepers were stationed in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that shattered the country [Getty]|
A prosecutor in Uruguay has said he may have to shelve an abuse case against six UN peacekeepers accused of raping a young Haitian man because authorities cannot get the alleged victim to testify.
However, the man told the Associated Press news agency on Monday that no one had ever asked him to.
“They know where to find me,” the 19-year-old man told an AP reporter who reached him by cellphone. “If they take me, I will go.”
Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting form the Haitian capital, Port-Au-Prince, said that “it looks like that the Uruguayan prosecutors are looking for an excuse to bury this prosecution”.
“They say they can’t get hold of him. So it is a real breakdown of communication and something that will add more frustration and more anger to that relationship between the UN troops on the ground here in Haiti and the Haitian people.”
The former peacekeepers were freed last week pending a military trial on charges of violating rules against fraternising with civilians inside military bases.
A separate investigation into abuse charges is being conducted by a civilian criminal court, but can only go to trial with the man’s co-operation, prosecutor Eduardo Fernandez Dovat said.
Jorge Menendez, Uruguay’s vice minister of defence, said last week that authorities had tried repeatedly to obtain the man’s testimony, either by bringing him to Uruguay or having him answer questions remotely.
They say they haven’t heard from him since his lawyer demanded a $5m settlement, which Uruguayan authorities said was not possible.
Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, Uruguay’s defence minister, who together with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologised to Haiti for the incident, said earlier that Uruguay would compensate the alleged victim.
The six Uruguayan marines were expelled from Haiti in September and jailed at home while military and civilian prosecutors investigated allegations that the man had been raped after his peacekeeper friends invited him inside their base in Port Salut, Haiti.
Mobile phone video footage of the alleged incident, apparently filmed by one of the soldiers, was widely circulated in the town.
The soldiers initially called it a prank that got out of hand, but it angered many Haitians, and gave ammunition to those who have been demanding a departure by the UN mission, known as MINUSTAH.
The alleged victim has moved to Haiti’s capital from Port Salut, but he told AP that authorities in Haiti could easily locate him. He said he was willing to talk, as soon as he was asked to do so.
Word of the peacekeepers’ release prompted fresh declarations of outrage on Monday by human rights activists in Haiti.
“It is hard to think of a stronger rape case” said Mario Joseph, an attorney with the International Lawyers Bureau.
“The perpetrators documented it on their cellphone. Yet the UN still denied it happened at first. Under public pressure, MINUSTAH promised justice, but did not deliver it.”
Dovat, the Uruguayan prosecutor, insisted that from the video itself, it would be impossible to prove the man was sexually penetrated, and that if he doesn’t testify, the case will have to be dropped.
General Julio Halty, the president of Uruguay’s Supreme Military Tribunal, told AP on Monday that a military verdict was expected by March or April.