A Tale of Two MINUSTAHs - Sexual Exploitation by Peacekeepers
MINUSTAH got off to a bad start. Initially, the force was content to sit back and guard government buildings while Port au Prince became increasingly unstable. The rationale was that they were there to keep the peace, not to be the national police.
Resentment from urban Haitians grew. The problem with the MINUSTAH way of thinking at the time,which adequately reflected the traditionally passive UN approach to peacekeeping was problématic in that there was no peace to keep and the police often promoted instability through drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and rumor had it, kidnappings.
Under international pressure, MINUSTAH became one of only two peacekeeping forces (the other being DRC) in the world to take a robust and aggressive approach against the kidnappers and drug dealers destabilizing Port, most of whom were located in Cite Soleil and sorrounding areas. The strategy paid off, as the force was able to take Cite block by block and arrest over 400 tier one and tier two gang leaders. Kindappings plummeted. For the first time in years, the police can enter Cite Soleil and there is space for development actors, non governmental, governmental, and international to act together. And we must act, if we lose this opportunity we will sorley regret it later when the second and third tier gang leaders have their opportunity and take it.
I should also mention that in the absence of any organized and well financed disaster preparedness and response Ministry in the Haitian Government, MINUSTAH is filling the gap. This was seen most recently in the logistical support they provided during the floods. And that situation has by no means been resolved.
Having said that, there is a darker side to MINUSTAH. Has anyone been to Petionville since the establishment of the MINUSTAH force? There are any number of strip clubs/brothels in Petionville. For the most part, they are Latinas from the Dominican Republic. One wonder about human trafficking....
There are over 100,000 UN peacekeepers throughout the world. According to the Code of Conduct which UN peacekeepers must adhere to, there is to be no sexual exploitation or abuse. This year alone, the BBC indicates that there have been more than 700 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast suspended and peaeckepers in in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also been accused.
Those who follow the UN know that a peacekeeping force is only as good as the peacekeepers given by member states. An excellent, and deeply regretful, example of how damaging poorly trained, ambivalent, or ethically challenged troops can be to a UN Mission can be found within the book Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire concerning the failure of the Rwanda peacekeeping force. Not the sole reason for the collapse of the mission, but certainly a factor.
Many states contributing troops have highly suspect human rights records themselves. Though there is a zero tolerance policy in place, recent history has shown peacekeepers often take great pains to not change their behavior, but only to make their behavior less visible.
This brings us to Haiti. There have been accusations of sexual abuse by MINUSTAH force members in the past. According to the linked article by the BBC News, over 108 Sri Lankan peacekeepers have been accused of paying for sex, some with underage girls. The UN is left with little recourse but to turn the soliders over to their respective national justice systems.
Sri Lanka has sent four high level officers to Haiti to investigate. The UN is launching its own internal investigation. We wish that we could say this situation is a fluke, but it may be more accurate to call it a trend.
What is to be done? The Code of Conduct must be enforced. Investigations should be carried out in a manner that is serious, thorough, and transparent. Liberia has an all women peacekeeping brigade, we suggest that female representation in peacekeeping forces should be encouraged and even mandated.
Haitians deserve better, and we hope you agree.
To learn more about MINUSTAH, you can visit their official website here.