UNITED NATIONS - A European charity organization, Save The Children UK, accused humanitarian aid workers and UN peacekeepers of sexually abusing and sexual trafficking children in several war-torn and food-poor nations.
“It’s hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children’s rights,” said Jasmine Whitehead, of Save the Children UK. In interviews, children said they engaged in prostitution, pornography, traded food for sex and were raped. The report was released in late May.
This report is a blessing, said attorney Marguerite Laurent, chairwoman of the Connecticut-based Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. “In Haiti, children as young as six were sexually abused by peacekeepers and aid workers, according to the report; and by the lack of media coverage it would seem that the world doesn’t care,” Ms. Laurent told The Final Call.
“Those of us on the ground in Haiti have been saying these things for years, but this report has credibility because of the group putting it out,” Ms. Laurent stressed. The activist attorney added that very little was being done to support victims of the reported abuses.
Some journalists have attempted to alert the international community concerning the persistence of gross human rights abuses in Haiti since the 2004 coup that ousted the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The Center for the Study of Human Rights at Miami University’s Law School published a report on the security breakdown in Port-au-Prince after the 2004 coup, which, according to Brian Conconnon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, was ignored by the UN and the international community.
“What the UN Mission In Haiti is doing is not a mission of stabilization,” said Mr. Conconnan. “It is a mission that engages in operations of massacres, assassinations and alleged sexual abuse of women and children more so than activities of reconstruction and peacekeeping,” he said.
The Save The Children UK research involved hundreds of children in Cote d’Ivoire, southern Sudan and Haiti. The charity organization said the most shocking aspect was that the sex abuse went unreported and unpunished, with children too scared to speak out and little happening to perpetrators of the despicable acts when children did speak up.
But, the report found there was an “endemic failure” on the part of the UN and others in responding to cases of abuse. “A better reporting mechanism needs to be introduced,” the report said.
Save The Children UK also noted that the international community has a policy of zero-tolerance toward child sexual abuse, but that stated policy was not being followed by action on the ground. A major part of the charity organization’s critique was aimed at the lack of punishment of wrongdoers in blue helmeted peacekeepers.
“The United Nations has refused to accept moral responsibility for the action of peacekeepers under its control,” Ms. Laurent said.
At the United Nations there was a welcoming of the report. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the report was “very helpful” and would be studied closely.
The secretary-general’s spokeswoman, Michele Montas, a Haitian, told reporters the report was “largely accurate,” but would not take reporters’ questions concerning the charges it contained. Instead Assistant Secretary-General for Mission Support Jane Holl Lute was sent as a “sacrificial lamb” before the press.
When reporters asked Ms. Lute about the outcome of the cases of the Moroccan peacekeepers repatriated from Cote d’Ivoire accused of rape; or the Sri Lanka contingent repatriated from Haiti on similar charges, she said, “I came down to speak about the report, not those cases.”
But several reporters would not let the issue go and Ms. Lute finally admitted that the Peacekeeping Department had asked the mission in Cote d’Ivoire to respond to charges they were given evidence in child sex abuse cases and did not act.
She said there might be accountability from the mission’s leadership, but was unclear on whether it would be the departed leadership or the present group.
“Holding individuals accountable has been an ongoing problem, because none of the reports mentions names of the organizations the individuals work for; so they just leave one job and get hired by another aid group, and the cycle continues,” said Ms. Laurent.
Larry Holmes, UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs told reporters there was a need to boost efforts to make “zero tolerance” of sexual violence a reality by reversing the “continued failure” of peacekeepers and UN police officials to “take sexual violence seriously.”
Mr. Holmes also urged an end to ineffective investigations, minimal prosecutions and interference by the military and other officials in the administration of justice.
Ms. Laurent said the problem is corruption between the international community and local authorities, and whether or not the government takes action against a person depends on where they work.
Save The Children UK agreed, saying the international community is not “exercising sufficiently strong leadership and managerial courage.” It asked for an outside-sponsored watchdog to oversee peacekeeping operations.
Reports from missions continue. In early 2008 the Daily Telegraph in London reported that members of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Sudan were facing allegations of raping children as young as 12.