April 23, 2013
In February, the United Nations confirmed that a Canadian serving with the United Nations Police contingent of MINUSTAH had been accused of sexually and physically assaulting a Haitian woman. Yesterday, Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste Ducena, a lawyer with the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, told CBC news that, though the victim reported the assault to police, “nothing will happen… Women who will go to complain, you will see that maybe somebody will take the complaint and will say to her you will be called after. But in fact, the case will just be closed.” CBC notes that the “day after the incident, the man boarded a flight back to Canada, where he remains.”
This is but the latest in a series of sexual abuse allegations leveled against MINUSTAH personnel in Haiti. According to U.N. data, since 2007 there have been 70 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against MINUSTAH members, but as CBC news points out, “not one has ended up in a Haitian court.”
The lack of accountability of U.N. military and police personnel in Haiti has “undermined” the organizations reputation and its ability to carry out its mandate, according to Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group (ICG). “The UN should ensure that in the agreement with the troop-contributing countries, that there is an understanding of what will happen if an abuse occurs — that there will be a full investigation, and that there will be appropriate action taken,” Schneider added.
According to the CBC, the current case is complicated by the fact that the Canadian was serving as a UN Police agent. The CBC reports:
Soldiers can be tried in a military court, but under UN rules, civilian staff — including police officers — are immune from criminal prosecution in the country where the alleged offence occurred. Once back in Canada, they cannot be charged for a crime committed abroad.
Since 2007, the majority of sexual abuse allegations have involved civilian (including police) staff, while 40 percent of allegations involved military personnel. While police are granted immunity from local courts, military personnel are also afforded a layer of protection. In fact, the UN has little control over investigating and punishing military personnel accused of wrongdoing. According to an ICG interview with a senior official in the Conduct and Discipline Unit of MINUSTAH, “The UN reviews cases and urges countries to provide faster follow-up but does not investigate to determine if discipline or punishment is needed.” The U.N.’s lack of ability to investigate or hold accountable those accused of wrongdoing flies in the face of the organization’s stated “zero tolerance” policy.
Looking further at the data, MINUSTAH’s track record looks even worse. Since 2008, 31 percent of the allegations involved minors, while another 30 percent involved individuals of an “unidentified” age. Also, while allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation across all U.N. missions has decreased over the last 6 years, the number of allegations involving MINUSTAH increased each year from 2009-2011, and there have been 5 such allegations already in 2013, which puts the mission on pace for more than ever before. Despite accounting for 10 percent of U.N. “peacekeeping” staff worldwide, MINUSTAH accounted for over 20 percent of the allegations of sexual abuse in 2011 and nearly 40 percent so far in 2013.