UN Expected to Wrap Up Haiti Peacekeeping Mission Mid-October

  • Posted on: 13 April 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The Security Council is set to wrap up the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti by mid-October after more than 20 years, in recognition of "the major milestone" the country has achieved toward stabilization following recent elections. The council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a draft resolution that extends the mandate of the mission, known as MINUSTAH, for a final six months during which the 2,370 military personnel will gradually leave. The resolution will create a follow-on peacekeeping mission for six months to be known as MINUJUSTH comprising 1,275 police who will continue training the national police force. It says the new mission should be operational when the old mission's mandate ends on Oct. 15.

The United States is currently reviewing the U.N.'s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations to assess costs and effectiveness. U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Tuesday that thanks to recent elections in Haiti "the political context is right" for a new and smaller mission. The draft resolution recognizes the country's return to "constitutional order" and major steps toward stabilization following presidential and legislative elections. But it also recognizes the need for international support to strengthen, professionalize and reform the police — and to help the country promote economic development and face the "significant humanitarian challenges" following Hurricane Matthew which struck last October.

The draft reiterates the need for security in the country to be accompanied by efforts to address "the country's extreme vulnerability to natural disasters." Sandra Honore, the U.N. envoy for Haiti, told the council on Tuesday that "Haiti's political outlook for 2017 and beyond has significantly improved" following elections. This has opened "a crucial window of opportunity to address the root causes of the political crisis" that preceded the elections and address "the many pressing challenges facing the country," she said.

The draft resolution says that MINUJUSTH, in addition to helping train the police, should assist the government in strengthening judicial and legal institutions "and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis." It would also authorize the new mission "to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence" in areas where it's deployed and "to use all necessary means" to carry out its mandate in supporting and training Haiti's police.

Photo Credit: Hougansydney.com

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4/13/17

Miami Herald

The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed Thursday to shut down its nearly 13-year peacekeeping operation in Haiti by mid-October and replace it with a new, leaner mission focused on justice, human rights and police development. In adopting a draft resolution, member countries voted to extend the current stabilization mission’s mandate for a final six months. The meeting, however, wasn’t without controversy as Russia argued that the role of the new mission remains unclear, and Brazil objected to the addition of new requirements that will set accountability standards for troop- and police-contributing nations charged with carrying out the U.N. mandate in difficult environments such as Haiti.

That language, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said as president of the council, “was added so that we are able to track effectiveness of remaining personnel.” “As the stabilization mission in Haiti draws down and the new mission draws up, the Haitian people will be sent on the path of independence and self-sufficiency,” Haley said. She raised the thorny topic of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers and personnel in Haiti and elsewhere around the world.

“While this is seen as a success, unfortunately it’s a nightmare for many in Haiti who will never be able to forget, and live with brutal scars,” Haley said about the U.N.’s presence in Haiti before reading from an Associated Press investigation published this week about sexual abuse. “We must acknowledge the abandoned children, 12 to 15 years old, who lived every day with hunger. They were lured by peacekeepers with cookies and snacks. The high price of this food was sexual abuse.”

Though Haley was the only ambassador to raise the U.N. sex scandal, Security Council members all agreed that Haiti’s 11 million citizens are still in need of human rights protection. Their concerns about human rights in Haiti were underscored by the decision by the country’s new president, Jovenel Moïse, to discontinue the mandate of an independent U.N. human rights expert, Gustavo Gallón.

Gallón’s recent visits to Haiti’s prisons highlighted “inhumane conditions” there and triggered international scrutiny, much to the dismay of the Haitian government. He even held a press conference in Port-au-Prince last month, shortly before it was revealed that the government opted not to renew his term. “All judges and court officials — and all people — should visit prisons to observe closely the ignominy to which the detainees there are subjected to,” Gallón said. “These are inhuman and degrading conditions.”

Three years overdue, elections for parliament will finally take place in Haiti. The Haitian National Police will be taking the lead for security with some help from the UN Police. Video by Jacqueline Charles / Miami Herald staff

He noted other human rights abuses. On average, more than 70 percent of detainees around the country had not seen a judge, Gallón said, and the National Penitentiary, where many prisoners had died in the last year due to overcrowding, malnutrition and infectious diseases, was at 359 percent of its capacity. At the current pace, he noted, an estimated 229 prisoners or about 22 out of every 1,000 will die in jail this year.

On Wednesday, HaitiChildren, a Colorado-based charity that usually advocates on behalf of orphaned, abandoned and disabled children, announced that it would supply hundreds of thousands of meals over the next six months to feed the 4,200 prisoners inside the National Penitentiary starting Sunday. Acknowledging that the prison focus was a break from the charity’s usual mission, founder Susie Krabacher said she was driven to do something after one of her directors showed her photos of prisoners inside the National Penitentiary, and she toured the facility. “We could not stand back and let more tragedy happen,” Krabacher said.

Commissioner of Prisons Jean Gardy Muscadin said the charity-provided meals will supplement the two meals a day that prisoners now receive. Muscadin also said officials are currently working on transferring detainees to less crowded detention facilities. Observers both in and out of the United Nations have long acknowledged that despite the peacekeeping mission’s success in cracking down on armed gangs and providing backup and training to the Haitian National Police, the mission has fallen short in helping Haiti reform its dysfunctional justice system and protecting human rights.

The resolution establishing the new mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti or MINUJUSTH, states that strengthening the justice sector and the capacity of the Haitian National Police in its efforts to strengthen prisons management “is paramount” for the country. “The Haiti of today is not the Haiti of 2004,” United Kingdom Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft said in welcoming the U.N.’s decision to focus less on peacekeeping and more on rule of law and human rights protection in Haiti. “Support for Haiti’s security capacity alone will not sustain peace in the country. As history has told us time and time again, it is the rule of law and the protection of human rights, not the capacity to use force, that delivers long-term stability.”

Associated Press

By Paisley Dodd 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — In the ruins of a tropical hideaway where jetsetters once sipped rum under the Caribbean sun, the abandoned children tried to make a life for themselves. They begged and scavenged for food, but they never could scrape together enough to beat back the hunger, until the UN peacekeepers moved in a few blocks away.  The men who came from a far-away place and spoke a strange language offered the Haitian children cookies and other snacks. Sometimes they gave them a few dollars. But the price was high: The Sri Lankan peacekeepers wanted sex from girls and boys as young as 12.  “I did not even have breasts,” said a girl, known as V01 – Victim No. 1. She told UN investigators that over the next three years, from ages 12 to 15, she had sex with nearly 50 peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who gave her 75 cents. Sometimes she slept in UN trucks on the base next to the decaying resort, whose once-glamorous buildings were being overtaken by jungle.

Justice for victims like V01 is rare. An Associated Press investigation of UN missions during the past 12 years found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel around the world – signaling the crisis is much larger than previously known. More than 300 of the allegations involved children, the AP found, but only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time.

Martine Gestime, 32, wipes her tears during an interview in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 11, 2016. Gestime said she was raped by a Brazilian peacekeeper in 2008 and became pregnant. Legally, the UN is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops. The AP interviewed alleged victims, current and former UN officials and investigators and sought answers from 23 countries on the number of peacekeepers who faced such allegations and, what if anything, was done to investigate. With rare exceptions, few nations responded to repeated requests, while the names of those found guilty are kept confidential, making accountability impossible to determine.

Without agreement for widespread reform and accountability from the UN’s member states, solutions remain elusive. Here in Haiti, at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007, according to an internal UN report obtained by the AP. In the wake of the report, 114 peacekeepers were sent home. None was ever imprisoned. In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced new measures to tackle sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers and other personnel. But the proclamation had a depressingly familiar ring: More than a decade ago, the United Nations commissioned a report that promised to do much the same thing, yet most of the reforms never materialized.

For a full two years after those promises were made, the children in Haiti were passed around from soldier to soldier. And in the years since, peacekeepers have been accused of sexual abuse the world over. In response to the AP’s investigation, the UN’s head of field support said Wednesday the international body was aware of shortcomings in the system. “We believe we are advancing in the right direction, especially with the secretary-general’s new approach,” said Atul Khare who heads the UN department in charge of peacekeeper discipline and conduct. “Improving the assistance provided to victims, who are at the heart of our response, is fundamental.” Khare also said the organization was working with member states to hold perpetrators to account.

In one particularly grim case in Haiti, a teenage boy said he was gang-raped in 2011 by Uruguayan peacekeepers who filmed the alleged assault on a cellphone. Dozens of Haitian women also say they were raped, and dozens more had what is euphemistically called “survival sex” in a country where most people live on less than $2.50 a day, the AP found.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph has been trying to get compensation for victims of a deadly cholera strain linked to Nepali peacekeepers that killed an estimated 10,000 people. Now, he is also trying to get child support for about a dozen Haitian women left pregnant by peacekeepers. “Imagine if the UN was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” Joseph said in Port-au-Prince. “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker agrees. The Tennessee Republican, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been calling for reforms in the United Nations. He may well get them under President Donald Trump, whose administration has proposed a 31 percent reduction to the US foreign aid and diplomacy budget. Corker and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley want a review of all missions. Corker recalled his disgust at hearing of the UN sexual abuse cases uncovered last year in Central African Republic. “If I heard that a UN peacekeeping mission was coming near my home in Chattanooga,” he told AP, “I’d be on the first plane out of here to go back and protect my family.”

The Habitation Leclerc resort was once well known throughout Port-au-Prince as a lush refuge amid the capital’s grimy alleyways. During its heyday in the 1980s, celebrities like Mick Jagger and Jackie Onassis would perch by the pool or stroll past the property’s Voodoo temple. By 2004, the resort was a decrepit clutch of buildings, and several children, either orphaned or abandoned by their parents, were living in its ruins.

It was there that V01 met other victims, two girls referred to in the UN report as “V02” and “V03” and a young boy, “V08.” The boy initially supported them by occasionally bringing food from his aunt, but they were often hungry. The peacekeepers had arrived that year as part of a new mission to help stabilize Haiti in the wake of President Jean-Bertrande Aristide’s ouster. The Sri Lankans, numbering about 900 troops, landed in a historically unstable country in the grip of scattered violence and kidnappings – and a broken government ill-suited to confront the chaos. Some of the peacekeepers in the Sri Lankan contingent were based near the former resort.

In August 2007, the UN received complaints of “suspicious interactions” between Sri Lankan soldiers and Haitian children. UN investigators then interviewed nine victims, as well as witnesses, while the sex ring was still active. V02, who was 16 when the UN team interviewed her, told them she had sex with a Sri Lankan commander at least three times, describing him as overweight with a moustache and a gold ring on his middle finger. She said he often showed her a picture of his wife. The peacekeepers also taught her some Sinhalese so she could understand and express sexual innuendo; the children even talked to one another in Sinhalese when UN investigators were interviewing them.

V03 identified 11 Sri Lankan troops through photographs, one of whom she said was a corporal with a “distinctive” bullet scar between his armpit and waist. V04, who was 14, said she had sex with the soldiers every day in exchange for money, cookies or juice.

During her interview with investigators, another young victim, V07, received a phone call from a Sri Lankan peacekeeper. She explained that the soldiers would pass along her number to incoming contingent members, who would then call her for sex. The boy, V08, said he had sex with more than 20 Sri Lankans. Most would remove their name tags before taking him to UN military trucks, where he gave them oral sex or was sodomized by them. Another boy, V09, was 15 when his encounters began. Over the course of three years, he said he had sex with more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers, averaging about four a day, investigators said.

Under Haitian law, having sex with someone under 18 is statutory rape. UN codes of conduct also prohibit exploitation. “The sexual acts described by the nine victims are simply too many to be presented exhaustively in this report, especially since each claimed multiple sexual partners at various locations where the Sri Lankan contingents were deployed throughout Haiti over several years,” the report said. Investigators showed the children more than 1,000 photographs that included pictures of Sri Lankan troops and locations of where the children had sex with the soldiers. “The evidence shows that from late 2004 to mid-October 2007, at least 134 military members of the current and previous Sri Lankan contingents sexually exploited and abused at least nine Haitian children,” the report said.

After the report was filed, 114 Sri Lanka peacekeepers were sent home, putting an end to the sex ring. But the sexual exploitation visited upon Haiti’s people didn’t stop there. Janila Jean said she was a 16-year-old virgin when a Brazilian peacekeeper lured her to a UN compound three years ago with a smear of peanut butter on bread, raped her at gunpoint and left her pregnant. She finds herself constantly in tears. “Some days, I imagine strangling my daughter to death,” she said in an interview under the shadow of banana palms near the former Jacmel base.

With her were three other women who said they also were raped by peacekeepers. One of them sat on her heels, scraping coconut from its shell and into a large cauldron of water and corn, the barest of meals for the women and their small children. Adm. Ademir Sobrinho of Brazil’s armed forces said at a conference in London that his force had no such cases of rape, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.

Janila Jean, 18, sits in front of a friend\’s house as her daughter cries during an interview in Jacmel, Haiti, Aug. 15, 2016. Jean said she was a 16-year-old virgin when a UN peacekeeper from Brazil raped her at gunpoint and left her pregnant. But like many, Jean didn’t report the rape. Nearly a dozen women interviewed by the AP said they were too scared to report the crimes out of fear they would be blamed – or worse, would meet their victimizers again.

The AP found that some 150 allegations of abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers and other personnel were reported in Haiti alone between 2004 and 2016, out of the worldwide total of nearly 2,000. Aside from the Sri Lankan sex ring in Haiti, some perpetrators were jailed for other cases. Alleged abusers came from Bangladesh, Brazil, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uruguay and Sri Lanka, according to UN data and interviews. More countries may have been involved, but the United Nations only started disclosing alleged perpetrators’ nationalities after 2015.

In July 2011, four Uruguayan peacekeepers and their commanding officer allegedly gang-raped a Haitian teenager. The men also filmed the alleged attack on their phones, which went viral on the internet. The men never faced trial in Haiti; four of the five were convicted in Uruguay of “private violence,” a lesser charge. Uruguayan officials said at the time that it was a prank gone wrong and that no rape occurred.

The following year, three Pakistanis attached to the UN’s police units in Haiti were allegedly involved in the rape of a mentally disabled 13-year-old in the northern city of Gonaives. UN officials went to Haiti to investigate, but the Pakistanis abducted the boy to keep him from detailing the abuse that had gone on for more than a year, according to Peter Gallo, a former UN investigator familiar with the case.

Finally, the men were tried in a Pakistani military tribunal, and eventually sent back to Pakistan. In theory, the tribunal could have allowed for better access to witnesses, but it’s unclear whether any were called. The Pakistani authorities also refused to allow the UN to observe the proceedings. In the end, one man was sent to prison for a year, according to Ariane Quentier, a spokeswoman for the Haiti mission. “It’s an indictment of how the whole UN system works,” Gallo told the AP. Pakistan’s military has refused several requests for comment on the case. UN data during the 12-year period reviewed by AP is incomplete and varies in levels of detail, particularly for cases before 2010. Hundreds of other cases were closed with little to no explanation. In its review, the AP analyzed data from annual reportsas well as information from the Office of Internal Oversight Services.

Marlene Andrew arranges clothes while her son Johnsley, 5, stands in front of their tent in Jacmel, Haiti, Aug. 15, 2016. Marlene was barely scraping by before a UN peacekeepers made her pregnant with her fourth child.

In the wake of the child sex ring investigation, a team of Sri Lankans spent two weeks in Haiti in October 2007. They interviewed only 25 soldiers out of more than 900 in the country and concluded that just two Sri Lankan corporals and one private had sex with two “young” victims. Three soldiers denied sexual encounters but were suspected of lying, according to the UN investigation report.

For six months, the Sri Lankan army and the government declined to respond to AP’s questions about the 2007 case. Instead, officials first dodged repeated queries, then gave vague assurances that the scandal represented an isolated incident. Last month, the Sri Lankan government acknowledged its military had conducted inquiries into just 18 soldiers it said were implicated, and that “the UN Secretariat has acknowledged in writing, action taken by the Government, and informed that the Secretariat, as of 29 September 2014, considers the matter closed.”

Some of the peacekeepers involved in the ring were still in the Sri Lankan military as of last year, Sri Lankan military officials say. The United Nations, meanwhile, continued to send Sri Lankan peacekeepers to Haiti and elsewhere despite corroborating the child sex ring. Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi defended the troops, saying, “People are quite happy and comfortable with the peacekeepers.”

Above a rusty bench at an abandoned bus stop in the village of Leogane hangs a sign that reads, “Constructed by the 16th Sri Lanka Peacekeeping Battalion.” It’s one of the few physical reminders of the battalion’s mission – along with children fathered by UN personnel. Marie-Ange Haitis says she met a Sri Lankan commander in December 2006 and he soon began making night-time visits to her house in Leogane. “By January, we had had sex,” she said. “It wasn’t rape, but it wasn’t exactly consensual, either. I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

She said when she first realized that she was pregnant, the Haitian translator assigned to the Sri Lankans told her to have an abortion. Then, she said, UN officials accused her of lying. As she spoke, her daughter Samantha sat on her lap wearing an oversized pair of sunglasses with a missing lens.

Marie-Ange Haitis stands with her daughter Samantha at their home in Leogane, Haiti, Aug. 17, 2016. Haitis says she met a Sri Lankan commander in December 2006 and he soon began making nighttime visits to her house When she was interviewed in August, Haitis said she had been waiting nearly a decade for the UN to consider her paternity claim to help support her daughter.

Finally, early this year, Sri Lankan and UN officials told AP that a onetime payment of $45,243 had been made for Haitis’ daughter. The United Nations said Sri Lanka accepted the paternity claim without proof of DNA and the commander was dismissed from service. But such payments are rare. UN officials said they were unable to find any members of the mission in Haiti who might have dealt with the victims in the sex-ring case and did not know what happened to the children.

An Italian non-governmental organization, AVSI, said it helped the children by trying to find homes for them, providing them with counseling and helping reintegrate them into schools, but it also lost track of the children shortly after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Khare, the UN head of field support, acknowledged the scope of the problem and said the global agency must do more to help victims, including gathering accurate information and following up with troop-contributing countries. “What we all want to see is justice been served for the victims of these horrendous acts,” he said.

An AP review of reports on the conduct of UN field missions showed haphazard record-keeping. In a 2008 report, for example, 19 allegations were reported in Haiti – a number that seemed to contradict the UN’s own investigation report in late 2007 that identified nine children and 134 peacekeepers in the sex ring. Before 2010, the number of allegations involving minors was not specified for all UN missions. Some Haitians wonder whether the UN has done more harm than good in a country that has endured tragedy after tragedy since it became the first black republic in 1804. UN personnel say they have contributed to the stability in the Caribbean nation over the years, saved lives during the 2010 earthquake’s aftermath and prevented violence during periods of unrest. The mission, which currently has nearly 5,000 personnel and is expected to scale down by October, has also been credited with training police, providing security during elections and support to the judiciary. “I would not say we have achieved everything we set out to do, but we are engaged in a process of continuous improvement that any harmful effect on the local populations could be minimized, if not completely eradicated,” Khare said. Many here are not convinced. “I’d like to see my attacker face to face and tell him how he has destroyed my life,” said 21-year-old Melida Joseph, who said she was raped by one peacekeeper and narrowly escaped being gang-raped in Cite-Soleil, a seaside slum. Like others, she never reported the crime. “They’ll look at this as one big joke,” she said. “As far as the UN goes, they came here to protect us, but all they’ve brought is destruction."

The Guardian

4/21/2017

The UN has been accused of refusing to cooperate with a human rights group that is pursuing child support payments for women left pregnant by its peacekeeping forces. Lawyers representing 10 women in Haiti plan to pursue child support cases through civil action, but say they need the UN’s assistance to proceed because most of the men involved are no longer in the country.

Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), a legal firm in Haiti, wrote to the UN in August requesting the results of DNA tests administered to some of the women. Mario Joseph, managing attorney at BAI, said the letter, sent through Haiti’s foreign ministry, has been met with silence. “[Life for the women] is really terrible,” said Joseph. “We’ve got more than six who live in the south of Haiti; Hurricane Matthew destroyed the south. Some of them don’t have any housing, they tried to go to relatives and they begged to get food for the baby.”

The UN stabilisation mission in Haiti (Minustah) said in a statement that it is in contact with the foreign affairs ministry regarding the cases and is awaiting further details in relation to one of the women. The statement said: “Minustah, through its conduct and discipline unit, continues to maintain regular contact with the victims and address their requests. For example, the mission is currently liaising with several UN agencies, funds and programmes to find a shelter solution for one of the victims represented by the lawyer. “Where a child has been born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations or related personnel, the UN will work to facilitate the pursuit of claims of paternity and child support.”

The group of mothers includes a woman who was 16 at the time of pregnancy – two years below the legal age of consent in Haiti. The soldier responsible, who was repatriated to Uruguay, initially sent $350 (£273) when the mother first gave birth, but has since stopped sending assistance. The UN carried out a DNA test in February 2014 but has not passed the results to the mother, according to her lawyers “These relationships occurred often on a transactional basis in a position of huge power inequality, where women were desperate for some kind of financial assistance for themselves and their families,” said Sienna Merope-Synge, an attorney at Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a human rights group and BAI’s sister organisation.

One of the women fell pregnant after an alleged rape, which was reported to the conduct and discipline unit of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. UN cooperation is crucial if the cases are to have any impact on the women involved, said Merope-Synge. “Because the fathers are no longer in Haiti, there [would be] a need to serve them with the results … and also, if necessary, enforce the judgment in another court or have their government or the UN assume that liability somehow. This is untested waters.”

The cases are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, said Merope-Synge, though many women will be reluctant to come forward. The UN announced last week that it would end its controversial peacekeeping mission in Haiti by October, replacing it with a smaller police force. The 13-year mission has been dogged by controversy, including allegations of sexual abuse and the introduction of cholera to the island. In December the UN finally admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for introducing the disease, which is estimated to have killed 10,000 people.

Last week, further reports of sexual abuse emerged with claims that at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007. The reports alleged that 114 peacekeepers were sent home but no one was ever imprisoned. Madeleine Rees, secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said that, without robust policies, UN resolutions promising to protect women remain little more than a wishlist. “Is it better to have peacekeepers there who are engaging in this sort of abuse?” said Rees. “What kind of peace are they keeping? They certainly aren’t protecting the people they’re supposed to be protecting. “We’re advocating for there to be tribunals in countries where there are peacekeeping missions, not just for sexual exploitation but for all the other things that go on.”

Akshaya Kumar, deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch, said that while the UN has made progress in how it deals with new reports of sexual abuse, there is a danger that historic cases like those in Haiti may be forgotten. “The UN has become much better at being public and transparent about tracking newly reported cases,” said Kumar, “but that transparency doesn’t go back far enough to address all of the Haiti victims. “The UN needs to really dig deeper into the past and ensure those who face the bitter legacy of this mission aren’t short-changed as things move forward. “Even if you shut down missions your obligations to the people affected by them negatively remain.” Any future UN presence in Haiti should involve a victims’ rights advocate, added Kumar. In February, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, proposed appointing a victims’ rights advocate. 

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