By Kristen and Wawa Chege, Advocacy Coordinators, MCC Haiti
The current case of UN peacekeeping soldiers, charged with the sexual assault of a young Haitian, raises issues of accountability and effectiveness in the United Nations Stabilizing Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). An MCC Haiti partner organization, National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) is working to ensure that this case is not lost, but rather demonstrates that no one is above the law.
Accountability for human rights abuses in Haiti comes in fits and spurts, where months, and even years, may go by before violations are taken to trial. The uphill task of bringing perpetrators to justice becomes even harder when the accused individuals are part of a larger entity with the political power and bureaucratic loop-holes big enough to stall legal proceedings. Laws articulated in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the government of Haiti and the United Nations provide immunity, meaning: troops serving with MINUSTAH cannot be tried in Haitian courts for criminal cases. Therefore members of MINUSTAH suspected of committing crimes while serving in Haiti, can only be tried at home.
The violations by members of the MINUSTAH peace-keeping force have long been swept under the carpet, with brushing remarks. The 2011 U.S. State Department country report on Haiti indicates that of the fourteen sexual abuse cases brought against MINUSTAH, twelve remain pending, and one was considered “substantiated.” The unwillingness of the sending states and logistical complexities in obtaining evidence and access to witnesses have been cited as problematic.
However, the recent case against Uruguayan soldiers accused of sexual assault of an 18-year old Haitian male in July, 2011, is one example where the sending state has taken responsibility for the actions of its nationals. MCC Haiti’s partner organization RNDDH has been a key driver for justice in this incident, pressuring the Uruguayan government to investigate and conduct a trial. Starting with its own investigations and moving on to reporting at the pre-trial hearing which occurred on May 10th, 2012, RNDDH has followed the case closely to ensure justice is done. A representative was sent from RNDDH to attend the pre-trial in in Montevideo, Uruguay. The RNDDH brief in English can be found on their website. A judgment of whether a full trial will proceed will be made by July 15th.
Each year, the mandate of the MINUSTAH mission is renewed in mid-October. June 1st marked the 8-year anniversary of the controversial entry of MINUSTAH forces into Haiti. Join in efforts for better accountability among the peace-keeping troops, and call on your ambassador to the U.N. to insist on better investigations of human rights abuses by MINUSTAH.
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Photo from United Nations Radio