Haitian anger flares over alleged UN attack

A preliminary investigation into an alleged UN attack shows no evidence of rape by Uruguay peacekeepers, but the accusation has gripped Haiti and is another blow to the UN mission.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP
In this picture taken Sept. 3, 2011, people walk in front of a UN base where Uruguayan peacekeepers allegedly sexually abused an 18-year-old man in Port Salut, Haiti. A preliminary UN investigation has found no evidence for the allegations, Uruguay's Defense Ministry says, but said that the troops broke rules by having a civilian in their barracks.

A video claims to show UN peacekeeping troops from Uruguay raping a Haitian man (Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera). It's another scandal for the UN, which has faced a number of exploitation scandals by peacekeepers over the years. It's another controversy for MINUSTAH, which has faced a number of problems over the years, most recently the allegation they brought cholera to Haiti.

The UN and the Uruguayan government are handling the scandal about as well as can be expected: removing the commanding officer, suspending the soldiers involved, and promising a full investigation. That said, there is no response that will quell all the anger that will be directed at UN forces.

This scandal comes as UN forces have already lost much of whatever goodwill they earned during their response to the earthquake. Brazil's new defense minister has suggested that they will be pulling out of Haiti at some point in the near future and some of the other contributing countries in Latin America are questioning how long they must commit resources to this effort.

While most (but certainly not all) analysts believe the UN peacekeeping mission plays an important role in Haiti, there is no public champion for MINUSTAH. The previous and current Haitian government have a mixed relationship with the organization, whose existence represents Haiti's inability to police itself. Most of the region's governments involved, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, never discuss the importance of the mission or why it serves their nations' or the region's interests. Many of the region's militaries involved see it as a secondary issue or even a distraction to their usual role. Though the UN mission is supported by most of the region, Minustah's vocal critics far outnumber its vocal supporters.

The lack of public defenders is going to be a key problem in getting through this most recent scandal.

UPDATE: Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologizes:

"We apologize for the abuse that some soldiers of my country perpetrated," Mr. Mujica wrote in a letter to Martelly.

"Although the damage is irreparable, have the certainty that we will investigate thoroughly and apply the harshest sanctions against those responsible," Mujica said.

He also apologized on behalf of the country's armed forces, which he said, where humiliated by "the criminal and embarrassing behavior by a few" soldiers.

I took a bit of criticism for having written above, "The UN and the Uruguayan government are handling the scandal about as well as can be expected...." To be clear, I am referring to the time after the video was revealed. Prior to the video's existence, MINUSTAH appears to have attempted to deny and cover up the events, which is terrible and adding to the problems that the Uruguayan government and the United Nations at large must now resolve.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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