Hundreds of angry Haitians demonstrated in early September against U.N. peacekeepers accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man in their barracks. The alleged rape occurred in July and became public on Aug. 30 when a mobile phone video of the incident surfaced.
Haitians had previously demonstrated against the United Nations last year, accusing its Nepalese peacekeepers of spreading cholera, as the nation struggled to recover from the devastating earthquake that rocked the island in 2010. Indeed, anger against U.N. peacekeepers over various charges of mistreatment had been mounting since the multinational peacekeeping force first came to Haiti in 2004.
According to an Associated Press report—based on interviews with the alleged victim’s mother and a judge involved in the case—an Uruguayan marine brought the man onto the base. A video, recorded by one of the marines involved in the incident, shows “several Uruguayan troops pinning the young man face down on a mattress, laughing and pulling his pants down,” the AP reported.
“Then, the Uruguayans laugh as a shirtless peacekeeper stands in between the man’s legs and seems to simulate a sex act until others shout ‘stop, crazy.’ The peacekeeper then slaps the man’s naked rear end several times and steps away,” according to the news service.
A physician, identified as Dr. Clifford Gauthier, told the AP that he examined the alleged victim one month later and found evidence consistent with a sexual attack.
The video surfaced when a peacekeeper gave the mobile phone to two young Haitians, asking them to download local music to it. Instead, the two youths copied the video and gave it to a local reporter.
Uruguay authorities initially called the incident “a joke in bad taste,” in an Uruguayan newspaper. But they are investigating the case and promised to prosecute the troops in Uruguay if they find evidence of rape.
The United Nations has jurisdiction over its own civilian staff, but does not have the authority to prosecute peacekeepers, which member nations contribute to missions. However, the organization announced in a statement that it has sent a senior team to Haiti to enforce its zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct.
U.N. peacekeepers have come under investigation multiple times for sexually assault. In 2007, the United Nations removed 108 Sri Lankan peacekeepers from Haiti after reports emerged that they paid for sex with Haitian women and girls. And in 2005, the organization released an investigative report revealing that U.N. personnel and peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, as young as 13 years old, in exchange for food and small sums of money.
The rape allegation against the five Uruguayan marines occurred at a time when many Haitians say they are fed up with the existence of U.N. peacekeeping troops in their nation. For many, the cholera case was a tipping point.
A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report provided scientific evidence to support what many Haitians suspected: U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the likely source of a cholera outbreak that killed about 6,000 Haitians.
Meanwhile, Brazil announced on Sep. 8 that it plans to reduce its Haitian peacekeeping force of 2,000 troops by 15 percent. Brazil heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.