Last week, four Uruguayan peacekeepers who were repatriated from Haiti nearly one year ago after video evidence emerged showing the assault of an 18-year old Haitian man, apparently inside the Uruguayan’s Port Salut base, were finally charged. The prosecutor, however, is charging the four soldiers with “coercion” as opposed to sexual abuse.
As AFP reported last week:
"The evidence on record does not support findings of sexual assault. The indictment concerns only the crime of coercion," said the prosecutor in the case, Enrique Rodriguez.
The Latin American nation's penal code states that coercion -- a crime punishable by three months to three years in prison -- involves the use of physical or psychological restraint to force someone to take or abstain from an action against their will.
"In this case, force was used to oblige another person to tolerate an action against their will," Rodriguez said, noting that the judge has not yet ruled in the case.
The Uruguayan press, reporting on the charges notes that the judge, even if he finds the accused soldiers guilty, could still forgo giving prison sentences.
The case stands as just the latest example of the problems of holding the UN Peacekeeping mission in Haiti accountable for abuses, from the introduction of cholera to the sexual abuse of Haitians. Under the UN’s Status of Forces Agreement, those accused of abuse are repatriated quickly, where they face judges of their home country as opposed to local Haitian courts where they could face significantly longer and tougher sentences. In March, three Pakistani police were found guilty of rape, yet were sentenced to just one year in prison by a Pakistani military tribunal. Despite evidence implicating MINUSTAH personnel in a cover-up of the abuse, the case in local courts has stalled. In another example of injustice, over 100 Sri Lankan troops were returned to Sri Lanka in 2007 after evidence emerged of their involvement in sexual exploitation and prostitution with Haitian children and women. There is no sign that the troops have faced any form of punishment since.
In responding to the allegations of continued abuse by MINUSTAH personnel, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Haiti, Mariano Fernández Amunátegui stated:
I will not evade the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, against which the United Nations are committed to enforce its zero tolerance policy. They are outrageous and totally unacceptable, and they are severely punished. Impunity does not prevail.
Yet the diminished sentences and charges relating to MINUSTAH troops continues to undermine the UN’s claim that it enforces a “zero tolerance” policy or that those found guilty are “severely punished.”
AFP notes that after the news of the charges broke in Uruguay, it “prompted protests outside the Uruguayan base at Port-Salut to demand the withdrawal of the UN forces.” Over the last few years, there have been increased calls both from within Haiti as well as troop contributing countries for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH. One body that is becoming more critical of MINUSTAH’s presence is the Haitian legislature. The recently released report from the UN Secretary General on MINUSTAH notes that:
Parliamentarians shared frank and mostly critical views on MINUSTAH. They called for the mission to compensate cholera victims and to swiftly punish those within MINUSTAH responsible for incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse of Haitians.
MINUSTAH’s current mandate ends in October, yet the extension for at least another year is almost assured. In the previous renewal, the Security Council “expressed its intention to renew the mission’s mandate beyond 2012.”