Alleged abusers came from Bangladesh, Brazil, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uruguay and Sri Lanka, according to UN data and interviews
In the ruins of a tropical hideaway where jet-setters 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, reports the Associated press.
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 – signalling the crisis is much larger than previously known. More than 300 of the allegations involved children, but only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time.
Legally, the UN is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops.
Without agreement for widespread reform and accountability from the UN’s member states, solutions remain elusive.
UN sex ting Haiti
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. 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 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.
Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph has been trying to get compensation for victims of a deadly cholera strain linked to Nepalese 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.
Habitation Leclerc resort
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.
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.
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 peace-keeper 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.
But like many, Jean didn’t report the rape. Nearly a dozen women interviewed 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.
Uruguayan, Pakistan peacekeepers allegedly gang-raped
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.
Pakistan’s military has refused several requests for comment on the case.
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.