Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti sex scandal

Sri Lankan peacekeepers in Haiti sex scandal

Published on Saturday, November 3, 2007

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By Gerard Aziakou

UNITED NATIONS (AFP): More than 110 Sri Lankan peacekeepers serving with the UN mission in Haiti are to be sent back home over charges that they sexually exploited people, including minors, in the impoverished nation, the United Nations said Friday.

It was the latest in a series of such scandals to besmirch the world body.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas. AFP PHOTO

The accused from Sri Lanka’s 950-strong contingent in the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) "will be repatriated on disciplinary grounds on Saturday," UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement.

Nick Birnback, a spokesman for the UN department of peacekeeping operations (DPKO), said 111 soldiers and three officers would be sent home, updating an earlier figure of 108 given by Montas.

Montas said the action was ordered "following allegations of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of MINUSTAHs Sri Lankan Battalion stationed in a number of locations in Haiti."

The decision was made after a preliminary report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and with the cooperation of Sri Lankan authorities.

Montas said MINUSTAH had requested the OIOS investigation and said Sri Lanka also sent a high-level national investigative team from Colombo, including a female investigative officer.

"The United Nations and Sri Lanka take this matter very seriously and reiterate their shared commitment to both the Secretary-Generals zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to best practices in peacekeeping," the UN statement said.

"The United Nations and the Sri Lankan government deeply regret any sexual exploitation and abuse that has occurred, despite their efforts to ensure the highest standards of conduct and discipline," it added.

Birnback hailed the fact that the Sri Lankan government accepted full responsibility and decided to be "as transparent and as cooperative" as possible.

"We think it’s a positive development," he told AFP.

Montas meanwhile said that some of the Haitian women involved in the sex-for-money scandal were minors.

The case is the latest to hit UN peacekeepers who have been embroiled in similar incidents in Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) and Liberia.

The UN — after turning a blind eye for decades to cases of sexual abuse by its peacekeepers — recommended in 2005 that erring soldiers be punished, their salaries frozen and a fund established to aid any women or girls made pregnant.

This was part of a "zero tolerance" policy regarding sexual misconduct, including a "non-fraternization" rule that bars UN peacekeepers from having sex with locals.

The policy was adopted after revelations in December 2004 that peacekeepers in DRC were involved in the sexual abuse of 13-year-old girls in exchange for eggs, milk or cash sums as low as one dollar.

Most of the nearly 100,000 troops serving in UN peacekeeping operations around the world cannot be disciplined by the world body as they are answerable to troop-contributing countries, UN officials said.

Under Brazilian command, MINUSTAH currently deploys 7,054 troops and 1,771 police officers in Haiti.
The mission began after then-Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide fled an uprising in February 2004.

Its main troops contributors are: Brazil, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Nepal, Argentina and Chile.
More than half of the Caribbean island’s 8.4 million people live on one dollar a day, according to UN officials.

Haiti for generations has suffered through coups, unspeakable poverty and violence. Aid groups in recent months have also reported a rising number of civilian sex assaults against women.



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