U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti allegedly fathered children with women and girls before abandoning them, according to a new report, building on previous accusations of sexual misconduct carried out by peacekeepers on the vulnerable populations they are ordered to protect.
Some participants alluded to instances of rape or sexual violence, but more often, the Haitians surveyed relayed stories describing a “common pattern” where women received small amounts of money or food in exchange for sex.
The research team, led by Sabine Lee, a professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinician-scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario, did not directly ask the people they interviewed about sexual relations with peacekeepers or children born through those relations. The interviewees brought those issues up on their own, the researchers said.
One woman is quoted describing “a series of females 12 and 13 years old” that were impregnated by Minustah personnel, leaving them “in misery with babies in their hands.”
Another simply said: “They put a few coins in your hands to drop a baby in you.”
The report implicates U.N. personnel from 13 countries, the majority of which were from Brazil and Uruguay, according to the report. It suggests the soldiers were typically repatriated to their countries of origin when the pregnancy became known, leaving the mothers with no assistance afterward. The findings have renewed cries from advocacy organizations that have previously said the United Nations should do more to help the Haitian victims.
In response to the report, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said it took the allegations seriously. Combating the sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by peacekeepers is one of the group’s top priorities, it said in a statement.
“We have unfortunately seen cases involving MINUSTAH peacekeepers over the past years, although allegations have been generally declining since 2013,” the statement said. “Our approach puts the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
The United Nations says it has received 116 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse since 2007, all of which concern Haiti peacekeepers. According to their data, 29 uniformed peacekeeping personnel are implicated in child support or paternity claims involving 26 women and 32 children.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel can undermine the trust of the local population whom we are mandated to support, assist and protect. We cannot accept this,” Nick Birnback, head of communications for U.N. peacekeeping, told The Washington Post. “Under the leadership of Secretary-General António Guterres, we’ve made great progress in addressing this issue, but we need to do more. Our policy is and will always be victim-centered, and so it is critical that anyone who has allegations against U.N. personnel comes forward to report them.”
The United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts have previously been tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2016, The Washington Post similarly detailed the trials of several women and young girls in the Central African Republic who said they were the children of a U.N. peacekeeping force.
The peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which began in 2004 after an elected president was overthrown, was already marred by previous allegations of rape and an acknowledgment from the United Nations that it played a role in introducing cholera to Haiti in 2010, sparking an outbreak that killed 10,000 and infected 800,000 more. Alarms regarding the United Nations’ involvement in the country sounded again in 2017 when the Associated Press reported that 135 U.N. peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were involved in a sex ring that victimized nine children in Haiti — the youngest of whom was 12 — from 2004 to 2007.
In January 2018, the Haitian-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed paternity suits in Haitian courts on behalf of 10 children who were allegedly fathered by U.N. peacekeepers. But the organization asserts the United Nations hasn’t done its part to remedy their situations — writing in a letter this year that the United Nations has “remained non-responsive, non-cooperative and opaque in its approach, failing to provide essential evidentiary documentation and adequate and transparent assistance to clients.”
In an interview Wednesday, Sienna Merope-Synge, a staff attorney at the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which partners with BAI, said the United Nations has withheld critical information pertaining to the children’s cases that has prevented them from moving forward in Haitian courts. The organization sought the United Nations’ help in obtaining child support for the children’s mothers as early as 2016.
The United Nations says it has taken the proper steps to help victims receive support and assistance. But Merope-Synge said the bulk of the work in these cases has fallen on Haitian women who are generally impoverished, forcing them into deeper cycles of vulnerability. She again called on the United Nations to be more proactive in its efforts.
“It shouldn’t be on a woman to pursue legal action in Uruguay or Nigeria — the United Nations should ensure the child support is paid out, and then it can go and recoup that money from the individual country,” she said. “It’s their place to do that, not a woman in Haiti trying to navigate a very complex, international legal action.”
Merope-Synge called Tuesday’s report “extremely important research” that gave credence to many stories BAI has heard from women in Haiti. The report’s findings, she said, underscore glaring shortcomings within the United Nations’ peacekeeper system.
“We have known anecdotally and from existing research efforts this a pervasive problem in Haiti, but this is some of the first data that points to how pervasive it is,” Merope-Synge said. “I hope it will get the attention within the U.N. system that it deserves.”