A recent report documents no less than 250 cases of sexual abuse by United Nation soldiers stationed in Haiti between 2007 and 2014. Many of the survivors of the abuse were children as young as 11 years old. These children and women were often pressured to have sex in exchange for food or money by soldiers who were stationed under the pretext of a peacemaking mission known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
MINUSTAH was a program developed by the UN ostensibly to stabilize Haiti politically and to combat “organized crime.” Despite its justification as a humanitarian effort, the military intervention itself has provoked new layers of instability in the country. Occupation forces have been accused of unlawful deaths, rape, and sexual abuse, and the new study suggests that such abuse is not just incidental, but widespread and endemic.
Sabine Lee of the University of Birmingham and Susan Bartels of Queen’s University conducted interviews on 2,500 residents in areas occupied by UN personnel. The study discovered that 265 or 10% of the 2,500 people interviewed had been sexually abused by UN troops. While there is no way to know exactly how many cases of sexual abuse and rape have been committed by UN forces, the 10% rate reported by Lee suggests that thousands of Haitians have likely been subject to such abuse. According to the report soldiers systematically used their power over desperate, helpless people for their satisfaction by offering money or food in exchange for sex. Many of the victims contracted HIV due to these encounters and many others became pregnant.
In the cases where these girls and women demanded assistance for their children, the UN and the fathers ignored them. When news surfaced of the perpetrators’ paternity, the UN’s typical response was to change their post or repatriate them entirely. The UN has refused to perform DNA tests on the soldiers, effectively protecting them from their economic responsibilities, but also, most importantly, shielding them from any legal action against them.
The UN refuses to take responsibility for its actions, resulting in the further destabilization of the nation by creating a scenario of greater poverty and despair in an already impoverished nation. The victims of sexual abuse who now have children often don’t receive help from their families in Haiti due to social prejudice against out-of-wedlock sex, and many of them can barely afford to feed themselves and their children. The girls also can no longer go to school because of the financial pressure they are under.
The UN’s “peacekeeping” mission has been consistent with the experience of any other imperialist intervention in a semicolonial country. It has brought suffering to its people, exacerbated poverty, and ravaged their communities with violence and abuse. Like the sexual and physical abuse brought to Iraq with Abu Ghraib, or the state sanctioned violence in Guantanamo Bay, imperialist forces led by the US professed peace and stability, but have only brought suffering and more oppression.
As the mass uprisings in Haiti continue, it is important for the working class in the United States and anywhere else to call for the total withdrawal of UN troops and to stand in solidarity with Haitian workers and protesters. They are fighting against years of racist subjugation and capitalist plunder with the ferocity that dates back to the Haitian revolution- reviving the words of Jean Jacques Dessalines “Liberté ou la mort.”