Last week the UN Security Council finally voted to end its military occupation of Haiti. Instigated by the US, France and Canada, it has been responsible for countless abuses during the past 13 years.
At the same time as the Security Council voted to draw down its military force (a police contingent will remain), the Associated Press published an in-depth investigation confirming widespread sexual abuse by UN troops in Haiti. The foreign soldiers had sex with minors, sodomized boys and raped young girls. An internal UN report uncovered by AP implicated 134 Sri Lankan troops in a sex ring that exploited nine children from 2004 to 2007. None of the MINUSTAH soldiers were imprisoned.
In early 2012 video footage came to light of five Uruguayan soldiers sexually assaulting an 18-year old Haitian. In that case as well the soldiers were sent home, but no one was punished.
At the time Haïti Liberté complained, “there are also almost monthly cases of UN soldiers sexually assaulting Haitian minors, all of which have gone unpunished.” According to the Status Forces Agreement signed between the UN and Haiti’s 2004-06 coup government, MINUSTAH is not subject to Haitian laws. At worst, soldiers are sent home for trial. Despite committing countless crimes, very few MINUSTAH soldiers have ever been held to account at home.
Beyond sexual abuse, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which has left 10,000 dead and nearly 1 million ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti recklessly discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the water-borne disease into the country. Even after the deadly cholera outbreak, UN forces were caught disposing sewage into waterways Haitians drank from. While they partly apologised for introducing cholera to the country, the UN has failed to compensate the victims of its recklessness or even spend the sums needed to eradicate the disease.
“Imagine if the UN was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian lawyer, told AP. “Human rights aren’t just for rich white people.”
These abuses aren’t an unfortunate outgrowth of a well-meaning peacekeeping effort. Rather, MINUSTAH was established to consolidate the US, France and Canada’s anti-democratic policies and usurp Haitian sovereignty.
As former Haitian soldiers swept through the country killing police officers in February 2004, the UN Security Council ignored the elected government’s request for peacekeepers to restore order in a country without an army. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) called upon the Security Council to deploy an emergency military task force to assist the elected government and on February 26, three days before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal, the Organization of American States’ permanent council asked the UN Security Council to, “take all the necessary and appropriate urgent measures to address the deteriorating situation in Haiti.” This appeal for assistance was flatly rejected by the world’s most powerful nations, but immediately after US/French/Canadian troops ousted the elected government the Security Council passed a motion calling for intervention to stabilize Haiti.
Immediately after US marines whisked Aristide from the country on February 29, 2004, 2000 US, French and Canadian soldiers were on the ground in Haiti. For years a Canadian led MINUSTAH’s police contingent and for six months 500 Canadian troops were part of the UN mission that backed up the coup government’s (2004-2006) violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. The UN force also killed dozens of civilians directly in pacifying Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for Aristide. The worst incident was on July 6, 2005 when 400 UN troops, backed by helicopters, entered the densely populated neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation. The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry, which fired “over 22,000 rounds of ammunition”, according to a US embassy file released through a Freedom of Information request. The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN initially claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme. (Graphic footage of victims dying on camera can be viewed in Kevin Piña’s Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.)
During the height of the violence Canadian diplomats pressured MINUSTAH to get tough. In early 2005 the head of the UN mission, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, told a congressional commission in Brazil that “we are under extreme pressure from the international community [specifically citing Canada, France and the US] to use violence.” Later Canadian Ambassador Claude Boucher openly called for greater UN violence in the pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil.
It is good UN soldiers will soon be removed from Haiti. Haitians, however, will continue to suffer the consequences of MINUSTAH for years.