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Will the United Nations' legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?

The accomplishments of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti have been overshadowed by scandals, from a cholera outbreak to sexual abuse cases. How will this affect future missions?

By Correspondent / June 13, 2012

Members of the dissolved army march past a UN armored vehicle in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in this May 18 file photo.

Ramon Espinosa/AP/File

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Gonaives, Haiti

When the United Nations deployed peacekeepers to Haiti in 2004, its troops were charged with restoring order following the tumultuous departure of then-president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Their presence brought a much-needed calm after months of violence and political unrest. In the years that followed, they provided security for two democratic elections and, after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, pitched in with recovery and reconstruction efforts.

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But that’s not the only legacy MINUSTAH, as the peacekeeping mission is referred to here, has created. Once popular, the UN mission now is viewed by many as a poor use of money and an unnecessary presence – a result in part of numerous scandals that have rocked the mission in recent years. From accusations of sexual abuse of two boys, ages 14 and 18, to the deadly cholera epidemic, peacekeepers are being blamed for impeding the  path to a sustainable state.

“[MINUSTAH] came to help us,” says Arsene Dieujuste, a lawyer representing the 14-year-old boy. “But they ended up violating our human rights. Someone has to make this as right as possible, even though it will never be right again.”

'What happened is ying and yang'

When MINUSTAH set up in Haiti in 2004, the peacekeepers tackled rogue officers from the defunct military and secured access to parts of the capital that had been off limits due to gang monopolies. When successive storms left thousands homeless in 2007 and 2008, the mission responded by delivering tangible goods and services to people and the government of Haiti. This was also true after the 2010 earthquake, which took the lives of over 200,000 people, including 96 UN peacekeepers.

“MINUSTAH came in and did the job that was asked, which was restore stability into the country,” said Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. “The initial mission has been achieved. We’ve now adjusted the scope of the work to different infrastructure development projects – road maintenance, bridges, clearing of canals, and assisting in strengthening the police.”

Despite their accomplishments, the UN spokesperson in Haiti, Silvie Van den Wildenberg, says she can’t mention the mission without someone asking her about cholera or the cases of abuse.

In Uruguay, four marines are currently on trial for sexually abusing an 18-year-old Haitian boy last year while they were posted in Port Salud. The teenager and his family were forced to leave their seaside home after the incident went viral on the Internet. It had been captured on a mobile phone by the Uruguayan peacekeepers themselves.

Earlier this year, three Pakistani peacekeepers were found guilty of raping a mentally challenged 14-year-old boy in the western town of Gonaives. The boy is now a ward of the state. A man accused of helping the Pakistanis cover up their involvement is also in prison. Two other cases of sexual abuse by MINUSTAH peacekeepers are pending.

Finally, unrelated to cases of sexual abuse but perhaps most damaging to MINUSTAH’s reputation has been the death of more than 7,000 people from cholera, and the infection of half a million others nationwide. The virus was linked to Nepalese peacekeepers who were not tested for the virus, though it is widespread in the area from which they originated. Mismanagement of their human waste is thought to have contaminated the water and soil in an area known as Haiti’s breadbasket, just a few hours from the capital.

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