“The United Nations Mission in Haiti – known as MINUSTAH – was established in 2004 to help strengthen the rule of law,” says Fault Lines presenter Femi Oke. “But its legacy has been marred by a pattern of rape – UN personnel preying on the very people they’re supposed to protect… The United Nations cites 85 allegations of sex abuse in Haiti between 2008 and 2015.”
Of the more than a dozen women Fault Lines spoke to, only one had reported her rape. She never heard from MINUSTAH again; UN headquarters confirmed that nothing more was done about her case.
“We found that most women never report their rapes and aren’t counted in that official tally,” says Femi. “Independent estimates suggest more than 500 women have been raped or exploited by UN personnel since 2005.”
Mario Joseph, an attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, is now representing nine women against MINUSTAH. Last summer, he sent legal notices to the UN, asking them to co-operate with the paternity claims the women are trying to file against the soldiers who fathered their children. “They never respond to us,” he says, adding that the UN has no mechanism to deal with situations like this. When pressed, a UN official told Fault Lines that there are less than a dozen children worldwide receiving child support from UN soldiers.
“At the heart of the abuse is a unique legal arrangement,” explains Femi. “In exchange for taking the job, peacekeepers are given immunity to any criminal liability in the countries they serve. That means here in Haiti, they are essentially above the law.”
Lieutenant-General Ajax Porto Pinheiro, the UN force commander in Haiti, told Femi that there has not been an allegation of sexual abuse in the last three years, but Fault Lines spoke to a victim, Janelia Jean, whose daughter was born just over a year ago, after she says she was raped by a UN soldier in Port-Au-Prince.
“The UN claims the number of assaults has gone down, but after almost two decades of impunity, these women told us they just saw no point in reporting the crimes,” says Femi.
At the time this documentary was filmed, Haiti was still housing 5 000 ‘peacekeepers’ from almost 50 different countries. But as Femi says, “The stories aren’t just in Haiti; they’re in almost each of the 16 countries the UN has a peacekeeping operation.”
Last year, after yet another scandal, the secretary general appointed a special representative, Jane Holl Lute, tasked solely with fixing the UN’S response to sex abuse. “Why is this unacceptable behavior going on?” she asks. “Well, it turns out, for the women of the world, this is an ever-present danger. There’s nowhere women are safe. There’s no family, no church, no school, no organization, no work place.”
Not even the UN.