December 19, 2019 / 6:50 PM / a month ago

Haiti government demands justice for women and girls abused by U.N. peacekeepers

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Haiti said on Thursday it will demand action from the United Nations after a study found girls as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by U.N. peacekeepers before being abandoned to raise their children alone.

Foreign minister Bocchit Edmond said abusers must face justice, after the study in the International Peacekeeping journal this month found “a multitude” of Haitian women and girls had been sexually exploited by U.N. mission personnel.

“A peacekeeper’s role is to protect the communities they serve, not exploit and abuse them,” Edmond said in a statement sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We will be holding discussions with the U.N. to seek answers and the right actions without delay so that the victims receive the support and justice they deserve.”

The U.N. in Haiti “remains committed to assist complainants and victims get the support they need so that justice is served,” a spokeswoman for U.N. peace operations said.

U.N. Peacekeeping has said it takes the issues raised in the study seriously, and it is supporting 29 victims and 32 children born of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers in Haiti.

Under the current system, the U.N. can investigate crimes and send peacekeepers home but has no power to prosecute individuals.

There have been multiple reports of sexual contacts - and several rape claims - involving peacekeepers in the 13-year mission to stabilize Haiti following conflict and a 2010 earthquake.

The issue received fresh scrutiny with the International Peacekeeping study, based on interviews with more than 2,000 Haitians living near U.N. bases about the experiences of women and girls during the peacekeeping mission, which ended in 2017.

About 10% mentioned children fathered by peacekeeping personnel, though it was not clear how many were referring to overlapping cases.

Their stories highlighted how extreme poverty often led Haitian women and girls into exploitative encounters, where they sold sex for small amounts of money or food. Some said women and girls had also been sexually assaulted.

“They put a few coins in your hand to drop a baby in you,” one young man was quoted as saying in the study, while one woman said peacekeepers impregnated girls of 12 and 13 and then “left them in misery with babies in their hands”.

The study’s authors have urged better training for U.N. peacekeepers and stricter disciplinary action against those found to have committed sexual misconduct.

Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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