UN ‘peacekeepers’ in Haiti ‘fathered hundreds of children and abandoned their young mothers to poverty’

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Haitians demonstrate against the cholera epidemic brought about by Nepalese UN troops

UNITED Nations peacekeepers fathered hundreds of children while deployed in Haiti then abandoned their young mothers to lives of poverty, a damning new report has said.

The study into the UN’s longest peacekeeping mission said girls as young as 11 would trade sex for food or ‘a few coins’ so they could survive amid political turmoil and the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

After being sexually abused and impregnated they were ‘left in misery’ to raise their children alone, the report says.

The problem was so prevalent that locals even had a name for it. Children fathered by UN aid workers were reportedly nicknamed ‘Petit Minustah’ – after the acronym for the mission to the country between 2004 and 2017, United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti.

The research team was led by Sabine Lee, from the University of Birmingham, and they conducted more than 2,500 interviews with people living close to UN bases in the country between June and August 2017.

UN babies was raised as an issue, with no prompting, more than 250 times, the newspaper said.

Soldiers from 12 countries have been identified as having fathered babies and abandoned them, the research claims.

Professor Lee said it was impossible to state a definitive number of peacekeeper-fathered children, but added that ‘most researchers and NGO officials would agree that hundreds is a credible estimate’.

‘It’s a pervasive issue, not isolated cases,’ she continued.

‘The multitude of stories and the fact that sexual exploitation, abuse and the existence and abandonment of peacekeeper-fathered children appeared over and over again in the stories indicates that this is a very significant problem.’

It is not the first time the UN’s Haiti mission in Haiti has been embroiled in controversy.

Troops from Nepal inadvertently sparked a cholera outbreak which claimed 10,000 lives following the natural disaster in 2010.

Child sex allegations then saw 114 Sri Lankan soldiers sent home from the country.

The report, printed in The Conversation entitled: ‘They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you’ – 265 stories of Haitian children abandoned by UN fathers’ states:

‘Marie* was 14 years old and enrolled in a Christian school when she met and became involved with Miguel, a Brazilian soldier working in Haiti as a UN peacekeeper. When she told him that she was pregnant with his baby, Miguel said he would help her with the child. But instead, he returned to Brazil. Marie wrote to him on Facebook but he never responded.

‘After learning that she was pregnant, Marie’s father forced her to leave the family home and she went to live with her sister. Her child is now four and Marie has yet to receive any support from the Brazilian military, an NGO, the UN or the Haitian state.

‘Marie provides what she can for her son but she cannot afford to send him to school. She works for an hourly wage of 25 gourde (around 26 US cents or 20 UK pence) so that she and her son can eat. But she needs help with housing and paying for school fees.

‘Sadly, Marie’s experience is far from unique. In the summer of 2017, our research team interviewed approximately 2,500 Haitians about the experiences of local women and girls living in communities that host peace support operations.

‘Of those, 265 told stories that featured children fathered by UN personnel. That 10% of those interviewed mentioned such children highlights just how common such stories really are.

‘The narratives reveal how girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then, as one man put it, “left in misery” to raise their children alone, often because the fathers are repatriated once the pregnancy becomes known.

‘Mothers such as Marie are then left to raise the children in settings of extreme poverty and disadvantage, with most receiving no assistance.

Mired in controversy

‘The UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – the longest running mission by the organisation in the country (2004-2017) – was originally mandated to assist local Haitian institutions in a context of political instability and organised crime.

‘Its mandate was then extended due to natural disasters, most notably an earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, both of which added to the volatility of the political situation in the country. After 13 years of operation, MINUSTAH closed in October 2017, transitioning to the smaller UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).

‘MINUSTAH is one of the most controversial UN missions ever. It has been the focus of extensive allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. A shocking number of uniformed and non-uniformed peacekeeping personnel have been linked to human rights abuses including sexual exploitation, rape, and even unlawful deaths. (For the purposes of this article, we use MINUSTAH personnel, agents, and peacekeepers interchangeably to refer to uniformed and non-uniformed foreign staff associated with MINUSTAH.)

Power and exploitation

‘Our research has underlined what is implied in much of the academic literature on peacekeeping economies – namely that poverty is a key underlying factor contributing to sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces.

‘In many cases, the power differential between foreign peacekeepers and local populations allows foreigners, knowingly or unknowingly, to exploit local women and girls.

‘The prevalence of transactional sex in our data underscores the significance of the structural imbalances – peacekeepers have access to some of the resources that are desired or needed by the local population and so they are in a strong position to exchange those for sex.

‘While many of the stories cited above were collected in Port Salut and Cité Soleil, similar narratives were shared across all interview sites in Haiti and the phenomena described are not unique to the Haitian context.

‘Our preliminary work in the Democratic Republic of Congo suggests a comparable situation.

‘In its zero-tolerance policy, the UN acknowledges the existence of socioeconomic and other power imbalances and their potential to render “intimacies” between peacekeepers and local women exploitative. In essence, the policy bans almost all sexual relations between peacekeepers and local women. In addition to suggesting that this blanket ban is ineffective, our data indicates that a more nuanced approach with targeted training of UN personnel is required alongside tackling the impunity that still surrounds peacekeeper wrongdoing.

‘Another key finding is the need for more effective mechanisms allowing victims of sexual exploitation and abuse and their children (as well as children of consensual and non-exploitative relations) to access support.

‘This could potentially break the socioeconomic downward spiral that traps victims – and in particular children – in circumstances of extreme economic hardship, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Child support

‘In January 2018, the Haitian-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed paternity suits in Haitian courts on behalf of ten children fathered by UN Peacekeepers, with the aim of lobbying the UN to secure child support payments for those children.

‘A year later, an open letter from the bureau to UN Victims’ Rights Advocate Jane Connors betrays their frustration with the UN’s lack of responsiveness and co-operation in the paternity suits, which “has made it nearly impossible for our clients to obtain justice”.

‘Evidencing the UN’s refusal to furnish results of DNA paternity tests that are vital to the mothers’ cases despite a Haitian court order compelling it to do so, the letter concluded that the UN was sending “an alarming message of lack of respect for the Haitian judicial system and the rule of law”.

‘This raises questions regarding the UN’s rhetoric about supporting the dignity and rights of those affected by sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by UN peacekeepers.

‘It also calls into question the effectiveness of interventions of the Office of the UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, which exists to advocate for the rights of victims and to bring their needs to the forefront of the UN’s fight against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Recommendations

‘The findings from our research have led us to make three key recommendations.

‘1) Training of UN personnel must include a cultural awareness aspect to enhance understanding of the impact of power differentials in fragile peacekeeping economies, the perceived desirability of having a child fathered by a peacekeeper, and the socio-economic consequences for a vulnerable woman being left with a peacekeeper-fathered child.

‘2) The UN practice of repatriating any UN personnel implicated in sexual exploitation or abuse must stop as it has a double-negative consequence. First, it removes the alleged offender from any effective prosecution in the cases of alleged wrongdoing, and second, it removes them from any jurisdiction within which the victim/child/mother of a child would have any chance of securing the appropriate financial support for the child.

‘3) The recent appointment of a Victims’ Rights Advocate for those affected by sexual abuse and exploitation must be followed by a policy that will allow the advocate to tackle some of the injustices created by the exploitation and abuse at a structural level. At the same time, they must be allowed to become a powerful voice of the victims, speaking and working on their behalf within the UN and in collaboration with the host countries and the troop contributing countries.

‘Many of the participants interviewed expressed similar sentiments around the need for recognition of and support for children fathered by UN peacekeepers in Haiti. One man said:

‘I know a lot of young women, young girls, children, who are living with MINUSTAH children in their care … I would like for them (the UN) to take responsibility, to take the initiative to look for and rejoin those young girls so that they can help them with the children.

* Names have been changed to protect participants’ anonymity.’