U.N. peace­keep­ers ac­cused of rape; Haiti latest mis­sion marred by scan­dal

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Reed Lind­say

LEOGANE,Haiti—Re­port­sthat peace­keep­ers raped teenage girls have sur­faced in Haiti, where a United Na­tions mis­sion so far had avoided the sex­ual abuse scan­dals thathavesul­liedthein­ter­na­tion­alor­ga­ni­za­tion’srep­u­ta­tion­inother­parts of the world.

Natasha, whose real name is be­ing with­held to pro­tect her, says she was raped by a Sri Lankan peace­keeper in this quiet city an hour west of Port-au-Prince when she was 15 years old. Her mother for­bade her from mak­ing a com­plaint, un­til now, nearly two years later.

“I thought they came for peace, not war,” said Natasha, now 17, who was the top stu­dent in her eighth grade­class­be­for­e­she­was­forcedto dropoutafterthep­ur­port­e­drape.“I thought they came to pro­tect us. I never thought they could abuse me in this way.”

How­ever, the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Haiti has in­ves­ti­gated 34 oth­er­cas­esofre­port­ed­sex­u­al­abuse and ex­ploita­tion since it ar­rived in the coun­try 2 1/2 years ago. Among them is the case of a 15-year-old girl who in Septem­ber 2004 ac­cused a Brazil­ian­peace­keeper­ofrap­ingher inside a U.N. naval base.

U.N.spokesman­DavidWimhurst said three in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­ducted found no ev­i­dence sub­stan­ti­at­ing Natasha’s charges. The girl’s lawyer con­demns the in­ves­ti­ga­tions as a white­wash, com­plain­ing that the U.N. never gave him or his client the fi­nal re­port.

No­case­ofra­pe­an­don­ly­onecase of sex­ual ex­ploita­tion by U.N. per­son­nel has been sub­stan­ti­ated by the mis­sion, which has more than 6,600 sol­diers and 1,700 po­lice of­fi­cers. In March 2005, a U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that two Pak­istani riot po­lice of­fi­cers had paid for sex­ual re­la­tions with a wo­man in the city of Gonaives. They were re­moved from Haiti, dis­missed from the­p­o­lice­force­and­sen­tenced­toone year in prison by the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment, Mr. Wimhurst said.

“We take it very se­ri­ously,” he said. “Clearly, the vast ma­jor­ity of ourpeo­pleare­be­hav­ingth­em­selves, and in­deed, since some of th­ese al­le­ga­tions don’t pan out, I would say, it’s not a huge prob­lem.”

Some rights ac­tivists say, how­ever,that­somevic­tim­sa­reei­ther­too afraid or too in­tim­i­dated by the U.N. bu­reau­cracy to come for­ward.

“There are likely many more cases,” said Polin Ale­an­dre, a so­cial worker who claims five street girls ages 9 to 13 re­ceived sex­ual ad­vances­frompeace­keep­ersin­frontof the na­tional palace. “Sex has a huge stigma in Haiti, and rape even more so. Peo­ple don’t talk about it at all.”

The United Na­tions has been rocked by a se­ries of sex­ual abuse scan­dals im­pli­cat­ing peace­keep­ers in re­cent years, high­lighted by the reve­la­tion of wide­spread cases of rape, pe­dophilia and pros­ti­tu­tion in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo in 2004. In re­sponse, de­part­ing U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kofi An­nan pub­licly ad­mit­ted to the United Na­tions’ fail­ure to stop sex­ual mis­con­duct and be­gan an in­ter­nal ef­fort to fight the prob­lem.

Since Jan­uary 2004, the United Na­tions has in­ves­ti­gated 319 peace­keep­ers for ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual abuse or ex­ploita­tion, re­sult­ing in the repa­tri­a­tion of 144 mil­i­tary per­son­nel, 17 po­lice of­fi­cers and 18 civil­ian of­fi­cials. The world body has no author­ity to pun­ish wrong­do­ers and only can ask that their home coun­tries do so.

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