The United Nations Should Hold MINUSTAH Personnel Accountable for Human Rights Violations to Haitians (IJDH-BAI)

Boston, Sep­tem­ber 20, 2011The Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti calls on the United Nations to hold its peace­keep­ing troops, known by their French acronym MINUSTAH, legally account­able for human rights vio­la­tions com­mit­ted in Haiti.

“MINUSTAH oper­ates in Haiti with very lit­tle legal account­abil­ity for their action as a result of a legal waiver signed between the UN and the Gov­ern­ment of Haiti,” accord­ing to Nicole Phillips, staff attor­ney at the Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti. Phillips explains, “with­out this spe­cial treat­ment, the fam­i­lies of vic­tims who died of cholera could be enti­tled to legal com­pen­sa­tion under Hait­ian law for MINUSTAH’s neg­li­gence in dis­pos­ing of their waste and for their fail­ure to con­duct an imme­di­ate inves­ti­ga­tion. Sim­i­larly, vic­tims of sex­ual assault, includ­ing the 18-year old boy raped by the Uruguayan troops, could seek crim­i­nal action and civil dam­ages against their MINUSTAH assailants in a Hait­ian court.”

Ear­lier this month, a cell phone video was released show­ing a group of UN sol­diers from Uruguay laugh­ing as they pinned down an 18-year old Hait­ian boy and sex­u­ally assaulted him. This is not the only case of sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted by MINUSTAH in Haiti. In 2007, more than 100 Sri Lankan sol­diers were repa­tri­ated for sex­u­ally exploit­ing young Hait­ian women and girls. A recent news arti­cle revealed that sex with minors, which is pro­hib­ited under Hait­ian and inter­na­tional law, is not uncom­mon for MINUSTAH sol­diers. In August 2010, the body of a 16 year-old was found hang­ing inside of MINUSTAH’s base in Cap Hai­tien. MINUSTAH has never announced results from any inves­ti­ga­tion into the incident.

Since the mission’s arrival in 2004, there have been reg­u­lar protests through­out the coun­try against MINUSTAH for inter­fer­ing with legal demon­stra­tions, mak­ing ille­gal arrests, using exces­sive force in its oper­a­tions, espe­cially in poor neigh­bor­hoods, and fail­ing to pro­vide ade­quate secu­rity in inter­nal dis­place­ment camps, includ­ing to women and com­mu­ni­ties faced with vio­lent forced evictions.

More recently, protests have included MINUSTAH’s fail­ure to inves­ti­gate the link between its neg­li­gent dis­posal of human waste and the out­break of cholera. Under inter­na­tional pres­sure, the UN finally admit­ted the link between the MINUSTAH base and the spread of cholera. But no legal com­pen­sa­tion has been offered to the 438,000 Haitians who have con­tracted the dis­ease, or the fam­i­lies of the 6,200 Haitians who have died.

Under a Sta­tus of Forces Agree­ment (or SOFA) that the Hait­ian gov­ern­ment signed with the UN, MINUSTAH troops enjoy an almost blan­ket waiver of crim­i­nal lia­bil­ity in Hait­ian courts for any human rights abuses they com­mit in Haiti. Both mil­i­tary and civil mem­bers enjoy immu­nity for all acts per­formed in their offi­cial capac­ity. MINUSTAH mil­i­tary mem­bers who com­mit a crime out­side of their offi­cial capac­ity are only sub­ject to their home country’s juris­dic­tion. Civil­ian mem­bers of MINUSTAH can only be pros­e­cuted if the UN agrees. Haitians may not seek dam­ages for civil lia­bil­ity unless the UN cer­ti­fies that the charges are unre­lated to the member’s offi­cial duties.

The SOFA also pro­vides for a Stand­ing Claims Com­mis­sion to hear pri­vate law cases against MINUSTAH mem­bers when the SOFA denies the Hait­ian Judi­ciary juris­dic­tion. The UN and Hait­ian gov­ern­ment have never estab­lished the Claims Commission.

Brian Con­can­non, Direc­tor of the IJDH, calls on the UN “to hold its troops account­able to the Hait­ian peo­ple by ensur­ing that all crim­i­nal alle­ga­tions against MINUSTAH mem­bers are inves­ti­gated and pros­e­cuted under Hait­ian and inter­na­tional law.” Con­can­non urges the UN to “estab­lish appro­pri­ate legal mech­a­nism so that the fam­i­lies of vic­tims who died of cholera can seek legal compensation.”

Like the Sri Lankan troops in 2007, the Uruguayan troops accused of the assault were repa­tri­ated to their home coun­try and arrested upon their return. The Uruguayan gov­ern­ment is urged to pros­e­cute those accused and to dis­close the sta­tus of the case to the vic­tim and the Hait­ian peo­ple. Despite the promises to inves­ti­gate and pros­e­cute the crimes in Sri Lanka, no infor­ma­tion has been made pub­lic on the sta­tus of the inves­ti­ga­tion or prosecution.

This Octo­ber, the UN Secu­rity Coun­cil will likely renew MINUSTAH’s man­date for the 7th year in a row.

At the Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti (IJDH), we fight for the human rights of Haiti’s poor in court, on the streets, and wher­ever deci­sions about Haitians’ rights are made. We rep­re­sent vic­tims of injus­tice, includ­ing earth­quake vic­tims, vic­tims of gender-based vio­lence, and the unjustly impris­oned. Together with our Hait­ian affil­i­ate, the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), we have six­teen years of demon­strated suc­cess enforc­ing Haitians’ human rights in Haiti and abroad.

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Brian Con­can­non Jr., Esq., Direc­tor, Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti, 541–263-0029, (U.S.)
Nicole Phillips, Esq., Staff Attor­ney, Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti, 510–715-2855, (U.S.)