Fault Lines

Haiti By Force

Fault Lines investigates the legacy and impact of sex abuse by UN peacekeepers in Haiti.

There is no greater betrayal of the UN peacekeeping mission than for troops deployed to protect communities to instead perpetrate violence and abuse. For nearly a decade, UN peacekeepers around the globe have faced allegations of rape and sexual exploitation. These vary from one-off attacks on children, women and/or disabled/incapacitated civilians, to larger, more complex operations, including prostitute trafficking and paedophile rings.

Everything I owned of value I sold so that I can feed the child. Sometimes I have this idea of just giving him away to a random person in the streets.

by Ovila, UN sex abuse victim

This has greatly undermined the credibility of the UN’s peacekeeping missions in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Most recently, Antonio Guterres, UN secretary general, confirmed that there has been a total of 145 cases of sexual assault and abuse across all UN peace missions in 2016 – up from 99 reported cases in 2015. 

The abuse has not only been chronic and unabated: it has been covered up and mishandled at every stage. In many cases, victims have been left without care, or any sense of justice. 

The countries with the highest number of reported allegations include: Haiti, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The UN mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, has been plagued by reports of sexual abuse since its establishment in 2004. The number of abuse cases cited by the UN in Haiti are a mere fraction of what independent estimates reflect, with long withstanding allegations of cover-ups by the organisation and unreported rape both playing a part. 

Legal battles against the UN mission, from within Haiti and globally, face a legal catch – peacekeepers are given immunity to any criminal liability in the countries they serve. Financial compensation is so rare, that there are fewer than a dozen children worldwide receiving child support from peacekeeper-civilian rape incidents. 

Femi Oke traveled to Haiti to meet some of the victims – giving them a platform to address themes of power and powerlessness – and confront those who failed to protect them.