Tag Archives: peacekeeping

UN ends occupation of Haiti, but legacy of abuse remains

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.

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Filed under Canada in Haiti

It is never ‘left wing’ to support imperialism

Most people who identify as left wing would agree that systems of governance that enable exploitation by the world’s most powerful corporations, governments and individuals should be changed. Most would also agree that militarism and military solutions are best avoided.

Why then do so many people ‘on the left’ support UN missions that claim to be about “peacekeeping” but often serve as little more than fig leafs to cover up imperialism?

Unfortunately, from the Cold War era on, there is a substantial record of nominally left wing organizations effectively supporting imperialism by failing to look closely at what particular UN missions actually do. Simple cheerleading of  “peacekeeping” has become a way to align with Ottawa’s “good Canadian” mythology and evade confronting military power, usually employed to shape the world in the interests of the richest 0.1%.

For example, in a recent email to its 25,000-person list Ceasefire.ca outlined, “key steps towards building sustainable peace and common security.” Its first demand is a motherhood statement about “giving top priority to war prevention, peaceful conflict resolution and building the United Nations envisaged by the UN Charter.” The second point is a call for “greater participation in UN peacekeeping missions and international peacekeeping training.”

Considered a countervailing force by many on the left, Ceasefire.ca’s position aligns with the Justin Trudeau government’s plan to dispatch 600 peacekeepers to Africa. As I’ve written elsewhere, Ceasefire.ca’s parent organization, the Rideau Institute, promotes the views of commentators who’ve backed violent, antidemocratic, UN peacekeeping missions. In February the Rideau Institute and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives co-published Unprepared for Peace?: The decline of Canadian peacekeeping training (and what to do about it) by Institute board member Walter Dorn. The Royal Military College of Canada professor worked with and publicly lauded the UN mission in Haiti.

An outgrowth of the US/France/Canada’s overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, the UN mission has undermined Haitian sovereignty and been directly responsible for many abuses. The UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which has left nearly 10,000 Haitians dead and 800,000 ill. But, don’t expect the Canadians blindly calling for more peacekeeping to apologize to Haitians for the cholera epidemic.

And Haiti is only one example of supposedly left wing organizations disguising their support for Canadian imperialism with the UN flag.

The Canadian Labour Congress backed Canada’s role in the UN mission responsible for the assassination of Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba. According to its 1962 Executive Council Report, CLC President Claude Jodoin sent a telegram to External Affairs “in which he expressed support of the Secretary General of the United Nations, then under attack because of the Congo crisis.” At Washington’s behest Dag Hammarskjold worked to undermine the Congolese independence leader. When President Joseph Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba as prime minister — a move of debatable legality and opposed by the vast majority of the country’s parliament — the UN Secretary General publicly endorsed the dismissal of a politician who a short time earlier had received the most votes in the country’s election. To get a sense of Hammarskjold’s antipathy towards the Congolese leader, he privately told officials in Washington Lumumba needed to be “broken”.

In its 1962 convention report the CLC’s executive committee noted:

We support the United Nations in the belief that only through a world organization of this kind, through the common discussion of problems, through the establishment of a strong supra – national organization, can world order be established and maintained. For all the difficulties encountered by the United Nations in the Congo, we feel nonetheless that the very fact of UN intervention has been a major step forward in the development of such a supranational force. We are proud that Canadians are playing a part in this affair.

While alluding to “difficulties”, the labour federation’s executive seems to have believed Lumumba’s assassination was worth the “development of such a supranational force”. In other words, Congolese aspirations could be sacrificed in the name of the UN.

Echoing this thinking, left nationalist magazine Canadian Forum and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the NDP’s predecessor) backed the 1950–53 UN “police action” in Korea in which 27,000 Canadian troops fought.

Canadian Forum said UN actions in Korea “revived hopes that the international body would serve as a deterrent to war.” But, millions died in the fighting after US troops intervened in Korea and then Washington moved to have the UN support their action.

As UN forces unleashed horrific violence in Korea, the CCF announced its “complete support for the principle of collective security through the United Nations” and party leader M.J. Coldwell called for a permanent UN force to respond to future aggression. In discussing Coldwell’s request and support for the Korean War, Robert Teigrob writes in Warming up to the Cold War: “In sum, if it was important to Canadian national identity and autonomy that the nation’s foreign-policy be determined by an international collective and not a single hegemon, it was vital to downplay the undeniable US control over the current [Korean] operation, or to present it as a provisional state of affairs.”

But was this really a principled stand in support of an international police force and a world government that could ultimately end all war?

History suggests that the principle of supporting the UN over narrow national sovereignty only extended as far as the UN taking positions supported by the Canadian elite. For example, in 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution (72 votes to 35 with 32 abstentions) calling Zionism a form of racism. In response, CLC President Joe Morris stated, “By this act, it can justifiably be argued the UN has ‘legitimized’ anti-Semitism and pogroms against Jews. Canadian labour will fight all moves to implement such a resolution and will exercise its influence to prevent further extensions of the resolution.” For similar reasons, the NDP effectively backed Canada’s withdrawal from the UN’s 2009 World Conference Against Racism (“Durban II”).

Unions, our social democratic party and other “moderate” left organizations are capable of disagreeing with particular UN activities. By what criteria should left organizations judge whether or not to support a particular UN policy or mission?

I would suggest the criteria should include such principles as international solidarity, the building of a more equal world, anti-militarism, and the UN’s own Declaration of Human Rights.

Cheerleading for Canada and capitalism may make sense as criteria for supporters of the existing economic order, but the left is supposed to want something better.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Sordid tales of Canada-UN history in Africa

Canadian officials have long done as they pleased in Africa, loudly proclaimed this country’s altruism and only faced push back from hard rightists who bemoan sending troops to the  “Dark Continent” or “dens of hell”.

With many Canadians normally opposed to war supporting anything called “peacekeeping”, unless troops deployed with an African UN mission are caught using the N-word and torturing a teenager to death (the 1993 Somalia mission) they will be portrayed as an expression of this country’s benevolence. So, what should those of us who want Canada to be a force for good in the world think about the Trudeau government’s plan to join a UN stabilization mission in Mali, Congo, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic or South Sudan?

First, we have good reason to be cynical.

On his recent five country African “reconnaissance” tour defence minister Harjit Sajjan included an individual whose standing is intimately tied to a military leader who has destabilized large swaths of the continent. Accompanying Sajjan was General Romeo Dallaire, who backed Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1993/94 and continues to publicly support the “Butcher of the Great Lakes”.

In his 2005 book Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks), Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, a former Cameroon foreign minister and overall head of the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda, claims Dallaire ignored RPF violence, turned a blind eye to the weapons they received from Uganda and possibility shared UN intelligence with the Ugandan sponsored rebels. Dallaire doesn’t deny his admiration for Kagame. In Shake Hands with the Devil, published several years after Kagame unleashed unprecedented terror in the Congo, Dallaire wrote: “My guys and the RPF soldiers had a good time together” at a small cantina. Dallaire then explained: “It had been amazing to see Kagame with his guard down for a couple of hours, to glimpse the passion that drove this extraordinary man.” Dallaire’s interaction with the RPF was not in the spirit of UN guidelines that called on staff to avoid close ties to individuals, organizations, parties or factions of a conflict.

Included on the trip because he symbolizes Canadian benevolence, Dallaire hasn’t moved away from his aggressive backing for Kagame despite the Globe and Mail reporting on Kagame’s internal repression, global assassination program and proxies occupying the mineral rich Eastern Congo. The recently retired Senator has aligned his depiction of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy to fit the RPF’s simplistic, self-serving, portrayal and Dallaire even lent his name to a public attack against the 2014 BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story. In February the former senator met with the Rwandan dictator in Toronto.

Three weeks ago the ruling party in Burundi released a statement criticizingthe Canadian general’s role in Rwanda and his inclusion on Sajjan’s trip. Still, I’ve yet to see any mention of Dallaire’s backing of Kagame or the fact his ally in Kigali has significant interest in the UN mission in Eastern Congo.

Another piece of history that should be part of any debate about a UN deployment to the continent is Canada’s link to the UN force in the Congo, which is an outgrowth of the mid-1990s foreign invasion. In 1996 Rwandan forces marched 1,500 km to topple the regime in Kinshasa and then re-invaded after the Congolese government it installed expelled Rwandan troops. This led to an eight-country war between 1998 and 2003, which left millions dead. Since then Rwanda and its proxies have repeatedly invaded the Eastern Congo.

Kigali justified its 1996 intervention into the Congo as an effort to protect the Banyamulenge (Congolese Tutsi) living in Eastern Congo from the Hutus who fled the country when the RPF took power. As many as two million, mostly Hutu, refugees fled the summer 1994 RPF takeover of Rwanda.

The US military increased its assistance to Rwanda in the months leading up to its fall 1996 invasion of Zaire. In The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 Filip Reyntjens explains:

The United States was aware of the intentions of Kagame to attack the refugee camps and probably assisted him in doing so. In addition, they deliberately lied about the number and fate of the refugees remaining in Zaire, in order to avoid the deployment of an international humanitarian force, which could have saved tens of thousands of human lives, but which was resented by Kigali and AFDL [L’Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo, a Rwandan backed rebel force led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila].

Ottawa played an important part in this sordid affair. In late 1996, Canada led a short-lived UN force into eastern Zaire, meant to bring food and protection to Hutu refugees. The official story is that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien organized a humanitarian mission into eastern Zaire after his wife saw images of exiled Rwandan refugees on CNN. In fact, Washington proposed that Ottawa, with many French speakers at its disposal, lead the UN mission. The US didn’t want pro- Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko France to gain control of the UN force.

On November 9, 1996, the UN Security Council backed a French resolution to establish a multinational force in Eastern Congo. Four days later, French Defence Minister Charles Millon, urged Washington to stop stalling on the force. ‘‘Intervention is urgent and procrastination by some countries is intolerable,’’ Millon said in a radio interview. ‘‘The United States must not drag its feet any longer.’’

Canada’s mission to the Congo was designed to dissipate French pressure and ensure it didn’t take command of a force that could impede Rwanda’s invasion of the Eastern Congo. “The United States and Canada did not really intend to support an international force,” writes Belgian academic Filip Reyntjens. “Operation Restore Silence” was how Oxfam’s emergencies director Nick Stockton sarcastically described the mission. He says the Anglosphere countries “managed the magical disappearance” of half a million refugees in eastern Zaire. In a bid to justify the non-deployment of the UN force, Canadian Defence Minister Doug Young claimed over 700,000 refugees had returned to Rwanda. A December 8 article in Québec City’s Le Soleil pointed out that this was “the highest estimated number of returnees since the October insurrection in Zaire.”

The RPF dismantled infrastructure and massacred thousands of civilians in the Hutu refugee camps, prompting some 300,000 to flee westward on foot from refugee camp to refugee camp. Dying to Live by Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga describes a harrowing personal ordeal of being chased across the Congo by the RPF and its allies.

Ultimately, most of the Canadian-led UN force was not deployed since peacekeepers would have slowed down or prevented Rwanda, Uganda and its allies from triumphing. But, the initial batch of Canadian soldiers deployed to the staging ground in Uganda left much of the equipment they brought along. In Le Canada dans les guerres en Afrique centrale: génocides et pillages des ressources minières du Congo par le Rwanda interposé (Canada in the wars in Central Africa: genocide and looting of the mineral resources of the Congo by Rwanda interposed) Patrick Mbeko suggests the Ugandan Army put the equipment to use in the Congo.

Prior to deploying the Canadian-led multinational force, Commander General Maurice Baril met with officials in Kigali as well as the Director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Hinting at who was in the driver’s seat, the New York Times reported that Baril “cancelled a meeting with United Nations officials and flew instead to Washington for talks.” In deference to the Rwandan-backed forces, Baril said he would only deploy UN troops with the rebels’ permission. ‘‘Anything that I do I will coordinate with the one who is tactically holding the ground,’’ Baril noted.

Much to Joseph Mobutu’s dismay, Baril met rebel leader Laurent Kabila who was at that time shunned by most of the international community. The meeting took place in a ransacked mansion that had belonged to Zaire’s president and as part of the visit Kabila took Baril on a tour of the area surrounding Goma city. Baril justified the meeting, asserting: “I had to reassure the government of Canada that the situation had changed and we could go home.”

The book Nous étions invincibles, the personal account of Canadian special forces commando Denis Morrisset, provides a harrowing account of the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) operation to bring Baril to meet Kabila. The convoy came under attack and was only bailed out when US Apache and Blackhawk helicopters retaliated. Some thirty Congolese were killed by a combination of helicopter and JTF2 fire.

Despite the bizarre, unsavory, history outlined above, Canada’s short-lived 1996 UN force to the Congo is little known. The same can largely be said about Dallaire (and Ottawa’s) support for the RPF during the mid-90s UN mission in Rwanda or Canada’s role in the UN force that helped kill Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.

Widespread ignorance enables a political culture that gives politicians immense latitude to pursue self-serving policies, present them as altruistic and face few questions. Unless progressives upend this culture the loud expressions of Canadian benevolence are unlikely to align with reality.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa