‘They came here to pro­tect us, but all they’ve brought is de­struc­tion’

More than 100 UN peace­keep­ers ran a child sex ring in Haiti. Few were ever brought to jus­tice


In the ruins of a trop­i­cal hide­away where jet­set­ters 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. The men who came from a far­away 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 age 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 — in­di­cat­ing the cri­sis is much larger than pre­vi­ously known. More than 300 of the al­le­ga­tions in­volved chil­dren, the AP found, 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.

The AP in­ter­viewed al­leged vic­tims, cur­rent and for­mer UN of­fi­cials and in­ves­ti­ga­tors and sought an­swers from 23 coun­tries on the num­ber of peace­keep­ers who faced such al­le­ga­tions and, what if any­thing, was done to in­ves­ti­gate.

With rare ex­cep­tions, few na­tions re­sponded to re­quests, while the names of those found guilty are kept con­fi­den­tial, mak­ing ac­count­abil­ity im­pos­si­ble to de­ter­mine.

With­out agree­ment for wide­spread re­form and ac­count­abil­ity from the UN’s mem­ber states, so­lu­tions re­main elu­sive.

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 ob­tained by the AP. 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 re­sponse to the AP’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the UN’s head of field sup­port said Wed­nes­day the in­ter­na­tional body was aware of short­com­ings in the sys­tem.

“We be­lieve we are ad­vanc­ing in the right di­rec­tion, es­pe­cially with the sec­re­tary gen­eral’s new ap­proach,” said Atul Khare, who heads the UN de­part­ment in charge of peace­keeper dis­ci­pline and con­duct. “Im­prov­ing the as­sis­tance pro­vided to vic­tims, who are at the heart of our re­sponse, is fun­da­men­tal.”

Khare also said the or­ga­ni­za­tion was work­ing with mem­ber states to hold per­pe­tra­tors to ac­count.

In one par­tic­u­larly grim case in Haiti, a teenage boy said he was gan­graped 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, the AP found.

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. He is also try­ing to get child sup­port for about a dozen Haitian women left preg­nant by peace­keep­ers.

“Imag­ine if the UN was go­ing to the United States and rap­ing chil­dren and bring­ing cholera,” Joseph said in Port-au-Prince. “Hu­man rights aren’t just for rich white peo­ple.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker agrees. The Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, who chairs the Se­nate for­eign re­la­tions com­mit­tee, has been call­ing for re­forms in the UN. He may well get them un­der U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a 31per-cent re­duc­tion to the U.S. for­eign aid and diplo­macy bud­get. Corker and UN Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley want a re­view of all mis­sions.

Corker re­called his dis­gust at hear­ing of the UN sex­ual abuse cases un­cov­ered last year in Cen­tral African Repub­lic.

“If I heard that a UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion was com­ing near my home in Chat­tanooga,” he told the AP, “I’d be on the first plane out of here to go back and pro­tect my fam­ily.”

The Habi­ta­tion Le­clerc re­sort was once well known through­out Por­tau-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, were liv­ing in its ruins.

It was there V01 met other vic­tims, two girls re­ferred to in the re­port as “V02” and “V03” and a young boy, “V08.” The boy ini­tially oc­ca­sion­ally brought 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-Ber­trand 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 ill­suited to con­front the chaos.

Some in the 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 was16 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 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.

Dur­ing her in­ter­view with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, an­other vic­tim, V07, re­ceived aphone call from a Sri Lankan peace­keeper. She ex­plained that the sol­diers would pass along her num­ber to in­com­ing con­tin­gent mem­bers, who would then call her for sex.

The boy, V08, said he had sex with more than 20 Sri Lankans. Most would re­move their name tags be­fore tak­ing him to UN mil­i­tary trucks, where he gave them oral sex or was sodom­ized by them.

An­other boy, V09, was 15 when his en­coun­ters be­gan. Over the course of three years, he said he had sex with more than 100 Sri Lankan peace­keep­ers, av­er­ag­ing about four a day, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

Un­der Haitian law, hav­ing sex with some­one un­der 18 is statu­tory rape. UN codes of con­duct also pro­hibit ex­ploita­tion.

“The sex­ual acts de­scribed by the nine vic­tims are sim­ply too many to be pre­sented ex­haus­tively in this re­port, es­pe­cially since each claimed mul­ti­ple sex­ual part­ners at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions where the Sri Lankan con­tin­gents were de­ployed through­out Haiti over sev­eral years,” the re­port said.

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.

“The ev­i­dence shows that from late 2004 to mid-Oc­to­ber 2007, at least 134 mil­i­tary mem­bers of the cur­rent and pre­vi­ous Sri Lankan con­tin­gents sex­u­ally ex­ploited and abused at least nine Haitian chil­dren,” the re­port said.

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-yearold vir­gin when a Brazil­ian peace­keeper 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.

Adm. Ademir So­brinho of Brazil’s armed forces said at a con­fer­ence in Lon­don that his force had no such cases of rape, sex­ual abuse or sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

But like many, Jean didn’t re­port the rape. Nearly a dozen women in­ter­viewed by the AP said they were too scared to re­port the crimes out of fear they would be blamed — or worse, 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.

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. The litany of abuses is long. 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-yearold 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.

UN data dur­ing the 12-year pe­riod re­viewed by AP is in­com­plete and varies in lev­els of de­tail, par­tic­u­larly for cases be­fore 2010. Hun­dreds of other cases were closed with lit­tle to no ex­pla­na­tion. In its re­view, the AP an­a­lyzed data from an­nual re­ports as well as in­for­ma­tion from the Of­fice of In­ter­nal Over­sight Ser­vices.

In the wake of the child sex ring in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a team of Sri Lankans spent two weeks in Haiti in Oc­to­ber 2007. They in­ter­viewed only 25 sol­diers out of more than 900 in the coun­try and con­cluded that just two Sri Lankan cor­po­rals and one pri­vate had sex with two “young” vic­tims.

Three sol­diers de­nied sex­ual en­coun­ters but were sus­pected of ly­ing, ac­cord­ing to the UN in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port. For six months, the Sri Lankan army and the gov­ern­ment de­clined to re­spond to AP’s ques­tions about the 2007 case. In­stead, of­fi­cials first dodged re­peated queries, then gave vague as­sur­ances that the scan­dal rep­re­sented an iso­lated in­ci­dent. Last month, the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edged its mil­i­tary had con­ducted in­quiries into just 18 sol­diers it said were im­pli­cated, and that “the UN Sec­re­tar­iat has ac­knowl­edged in writ­ing, ac­tion taken by the Gov­ern­ment, and in­formed that the Sec­re­tar­iat, as of 29 Septem­ber 2014, con­sid­ers the mat­ter closed.”

Some of the peace­keep­ers in­volved in the ring were still in the Sri Lankan mil­i­tary as of last year, Sri Lankan mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say. The United Na­tions, mean­while, con­tin­ued to send Sri Lankan peace­keep­ers to Haiti and else­where de­spite cor­rob­o­rat­ing the child sex ring. Sri Lankan De­fence Sec­re­tary Karunasena Het­tiarachchi de­fended the troops, say­ing, “Peo­ple are quite happy and com­fort­able with the peace­keep­ers.”

Above a rusty bench at an aban­doned bus stop in the vil­lage of Leogane hangs a sign that reads, “Con­structed by the 16th Sri Lanka Peace­keep­ing Bat­tal­ion.” It’s one of the few phys­i­cal re­minders of the bat­tal­ion’s mis­sion — along with chil­dren fa­thered by UN per­son­nel. MarieAnge Haïtis says she met a Sri Lankan com­man­der in De­cem­ber 2006 and he soon be­gan mak­ing night­time vis­its to her house in Leogane.

“By Jan­uary, we had had sex,” she said. “It wasn’t rape, but it wasn’t ex­actly con­sen­sual, ei­ther. I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

She said when she first re­al­ized that she was preg­nant, the Haitian trans­la­tor as­signed to the Sri Lankans told her to have an abor­tion. Then, she said, UN of­fi­cials ac­cused her of ly­ing. When she was in­ter­viewed in Au­gust, Haïtis said she had been wait­ing nearly a decade for the UN to con­sider her pa­ter­nity claim to help sup­port her daugh­ter.

Fi­nally, early this year, Sri Lankan and UN of­fi­cials told AP that a one­time pay­ment of $45,243 had been made for Haïtis’ daugh­ter. The United Na­tions said Sri Lanka ac­cepted the pa­ter­nity claim with­out proof of DNA and the com­man­der was dis­missed from ser­vice. But such pay­ments are rare. UN of­fi­cials said they were un­able to find any mem­bers of the mis­sion in Haiti who might have dealt with the vic­tims in the sex-ring case and did not know what hap­pened to the chil­dren.

Some Haitians won­der whether the UN has done more harm than good in a coun­try that has en­dured tragedy af­ter tragedy since it be­came the first black repub­lic in 1804.

“I’d like to see my at­tacker face to face and tell him how he has de­stroyed my life,” said 21-year-old Mel­ida Joseph, who said she was raped by one peace­keeper and nar­rowly es­caped be­ing gang-raped in CitéSoleil, a sea­side slum. Like oth­ers, she never re­ported the crime.

“They’ll look at this as one big joke,” she said. “As far as the UN goes, they came here to pro­tect us, but all they’ve brought is de­struc­tion.”

“Imag­ine if the UN was go­ing to the United States and rap­ing chil­dren . . . Hu­man rights aren’t just for rich white peo­ple.” MARIO JOSEPH HAITIAN LAWYER


Mar­tine Ges­time, 32, said she was raped by a Brazil­ian peace­keeper in 2008.


Janila Jean, 18, and her daugh­ter. Jean said a UN peace­keeper raped her at gun­point and left her preg­nant.

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