PORT-AU-PRINCE (IPS) – Workers in Haiti’s apparel manufacturing sector charge that factory owners are repressing attempts to organise workers in the capital, after the dismissals of six of seven leading members of a new union within just two weeks of its formation.
The new union, Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman (SOTA), is recognised by the Haitian government and supported by the Haitian union federation Batay Ouvriye, which organised the only other textile workers’ union in the country on the border with the Dominican Republic in 2006.
Judeline Pierre, a rail-thin 44-year-old mother who works at the Sonapi Industrial Park near Port-au-Prince’s airport, said she has been secretly attending union meetings organised by Batay Ouvriye for months.
In her bag, she carries a wrinkled, folded-up flyer calling for better conditions in the factories. She said she had to hide her involvement in the union, “because as soon as you start to assert your rights, they fire you. They’ve fired many operators for that.”
Textile factories in Port-au-Prince employ about 29,000 people, in a country of nine million with an estimated unemployment rate of 80 percent, according to the U.S. Embassy. The minimum wage is about five dollars per day, though some workers earn more by exceeding production quotas.
A handful of contractors run the factories, assembling and exporting duty-free garments for U.S. companies like Hanes and The Gap under the terms of a preferential U.S.-Haiti trade deal known as the HOPE programme.
Two Haitian factory owners, Charles Baker, whose factory fired one of the union-connected workers, and George Sassine, the head of the owners’ industry association and executive director of the HOPE programme, told IPS they were not opposed to unions in principle and that recent worker firings are justified.
“These incidents, they have nothing to do with people trying to form a union,” Sassine told IPS. “Now suddenly, the whole international community is on my back telling me I’m against people organising.”
Sassine said he believes Batay Ouvriye aims to completely shut down factories, rather than merely organise workers.
Stepping out of his air-conditioned office onto a buzzing, 1,640- worker-strong factory floor, Baker gestured around, “If they want to unionise, they can unionise. But they need to do it in the right way.” He said he fired a man handing out flyers during work hours and interrupting production.
Between the workers and the factory owners is Better Work Haiti, a nine-person team funded by the U.S. Department of Labour charged with monitoring labour conditions in Haiti’s textile factories. The group will issue a fact-finding report on the alleged firings of SOTA members next month.
Better Work Haiti’s third biannual report on compliance with International Labour Organisation standards was released two weeks ago. It found violations of some occupational health and safety and minimum wage regulations in over 80 percent of the factories, but in the four “core” labour standards, compliance rates are near perfect.
Richard Lavallée, Better Work Haiti’s director, said the factory owners “are fully engaged in the programme” and praised the steady improvements in compliance with core standards over the last two years.
The fourth core standard is the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The latest report identifies just two instances of non-compliance, including a 12-day-long strike in May which resulted in the firings of 140 workers.
But the low non-compliance rate is potentially misleading. “Although no non-compliance findings are cited in the current report under Union Operations,” the report notes, there are “very significant challenges related to the rights of workers to freely form, join and participate in independent trade unions”.
“If you look at the reports, in Haiti there is only one unionised factory (in Ouanaminthe) out of 23 operating factories. In the factories in Port-au-Prince, there are no unions. We don’t have any evidence,” Lavallée said.
He explained that if a factory owner fires a person for trying to organise workers, it won’t be noted in the employee records reviewed by his team. Continue reading “HAITI: Nascent Union Charges Reprisals by Textile Factory Owners”
“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely to impose NECESSARY ILLUSIONS to manipulate and deceive [whom THEY believe are] the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena.” -Noam Chomsky
I once argued with an Associated Press reporter about whether his bureau does more to aid and comfort foreign power-brokers in Haiti, like those who work out of the massive US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, than to investigate and hold them accountable. (I did not contend that every single AP report is slavish propaganda. They do some very good reporting at times.)
I said that the AP makes political choices to pay attention to certain stories and people, but not others (at the time, it was the remarks of Ricardo Seitenfus). On a few important issues, especially those surrounding former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his political party Fanmi Lavalas, its reporting often toes the line of the US government.
Distortions of the truth, regardless of their political slant, don’t serve the public well. Here’s an unfortunate example of exact convergence between propaganda from the AP and the US Embassy itself.
On Friday, at least a thousand people took to the streets in Cite Soleil to commemorate the bloody 1991 coup d’etat against Aristide. I’m being conservative when I say at least a thousand.
A Haitian friend (not a Lavalas supporter) viewed the video and said it looked like 3000. To me, having been on the ground, it looked like 2000. The Haitian journalist who shot the video on my camera said it was 1500. Other Haitian journalists walking down the street in the afternoon said they were coming from another march in Bel-Air, apart from Cite Soleil, that disbanded before I could get there.
Trenton Daniel, the AP correspondent, appeared to arrive way late to the Cite Soleil march, after most of the marchers had gone home. He reported: “Thousands of supporters greeted Aristide upon his return earlier this year, but a crowd of only about 200 people showed up for the rally.”
This is simply factually inaccurate. The AP needs to make a correction. I’ve tweeted and emailed since Friday – no response.
But it also betrays poor editorial judgment. As a friend pointed out:
What on earth compelled Trenton Daniel to compare the turnout at Aristide’s arrival after YEARS of exile in another continent with the possibility of seeing Aristide in person to a neighborhood-organized rally based around the commemoration of the 1991 coup?! That’s the real point here–even if there WERE only 200, how can that give anyone a meaningful indicator as to the dynamics of the movement, whether support is waning, etc.?! That’s an editorial decision to link those two events to each other, and is specious.
This is to say nothing of how the AP regularly describes Aristide as being ousted by a “rebellion,” rather than using language that at least acknowledges the well–documented allegations that the US forced him from power in a second coup d’etat.
Almost two years ago, in December 2009, I covered a demonstration by Aristide supporters calling for his return to Haiti and decrying exclusionary elections. The video I shot of the protest is on a hard drive in the States at the moment, but photos can be viewed here. Reuters reported, “Several thousand protesters joined in the protest march, which marked Aristide’s rise to power as Haiti’s first democratically elected president in December 1990.”
The next day, Kenneth Merten, the current US Ambassador to Haiti, described how a “small” “crowd of approximately 150 persons marched around downtown before heading to the electoral authority’s offices” in a cable to State Department headquarters entitled “Fanmi Lavalas Fails to Mobilize Its Base.”
Maybe it’s willful self-delusion. Maybe he just showed up late. But like Trenton Daniel of the AP, Merten seized on the artificial crowd estimate to make to make political claims about Fanmi Lavalas’ lack of popularity.
“This demonstration was markedly different from the late 1990s when Lavalas could easily fill the streets with thousands of protestors, and indicates the extent to which the party has lost its power. Even two years ago, party organizers could count on two thousand supporters to take to the streets.”
At least triple of “two thousand supporters” took to the streets that day.
Videoblog sidebar: UN Troops Go After An Alleged Thief (And Their Own Interpreter)
Above, one of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyers, Reynold Georges, attempts to shout over Gerardo Ducos, a researcher for Amnesty International, as he speaks to reporters today about his organization’s call for prosecuting the former dictator.
Below, audio of a small portion of the yelling by Georges and one of his associates, along with comments from James Burke, an Amnesty International campaigner for the Caribbean, and later Georges again. (MP3)
Update: Here’s Amnesty Int’l’s official response to what happened: “Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyers and a dozen of his supporters tried to gag Amnesty International and Haitian journalists during the presentation of the organization’s report ‘You cannot kill the truth’: The case against Jean-Claude Duvalier, on 22 September in Port-au-Prince.”
Faced with growing outrage over an alleged sexual assault by UN occupation soldiers on 18-year-old Johnny Jean in the southern town of Port Salut, the UN is pledging to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.
But this promise is belied by the UN mission’s refusal to cooperate with the Haitian justice system’s attempt to investigate the hanging death of a 16-year-old boy inside another UN base one year ago.
Gérard Jean-Gilles ran errands for Nepalese soldiers at their base in Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. A Haitian interpreter for the troops, Joëlle Rozéfort, accused Jean-Gilles of stealing $200 from her car. The next day, on Aug. 18, 2010, Jean-Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside the base, a wire around his neck.
The UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) said its internal inquiry found that Jean-Gilles committed suicide. But Jean-Gilles’ family and friends suspect he was murdered, and when a Haitian judge tried to investigate, the UN stone-walled.
The former delegate (or central government representative) of Haiti’s northern region calls the UN “the primary obstacle” to learning how Jean-Gilles died.
In impassioned demonstrations against MINUSTAH this week, Haitians are calling for justice for Gérard Jean-Gilles, too.
“He died searching for a way to live,” said his adoptive father, Rémy Raphaël, whose street merchant wife took in Jean-Gilles as a baby, after his mother died and father went missing.
“He was in school, but my wife couldn’t keep paying for it,” said Raphaël, in the family’s sparse two-room home in a narrow, grimy alleyway. “He never tried to make trouble with people because he understood his situation, he preferred to search for jobs… That’s why he became friends with the soldiers.”
Evens Bele, 17, worked alongside Jean-Gilles on the MINUSTAH base for three years. They earned the equivalent of $10 a month, running errands, cleaning base facilities, and translating for the UN troops during patrols.
“He entered, said hello to me, and told me he had trouble with a lady who lost around $200,” said Bele of the fateful morning. Not long after, “I saw him hung up.”
UN personnel immediately met with the family and local officials. The body was flown to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, the same day. But it sat for three days until Haitian doctors carried out an autopsy at the General Hospital, according to Calixte James, Jean-Gilles’ uncle, who accompanied the body.
“They could have done the autopsy the same day because we arrived in Port-au-Prince at 3:45 p.m.,” said James, a heavyset Blackberry-toting lawyer. “In our country, we don’t have the equipment that can detect things in [an autopsy on] a body after 72 hours. So to me what they were doing was already meaningless.”
An autopsy report obtained by Haiti Liberte said no traces of violence were found on the corpse, which the UN uses to buttress its claim of suicide.
But Raphaël, who worked as a dishwasher in the base, believes the UN soldiers “asphyxiated [his son] with gas and then hung him from the tree,” which was “in a restricted spot of the yard behind a lot of containers.”
“He could have fought them because he was strong enough,” Raphaël said, his voice rising. “He wouldn’t let them do that to him. . .To me the autopsy is not clear enough.”
The suspicions of Jean-Gilles’ family and friends swirl around interpreter Joëlle Rozéfort, who had accused Jean-Gilles of stealing money from her car the previous day.
The morning of the boy’s death, “Joëlle came to me while I was washing dishes, saying Gérard shouldn’t have stolen money from her,” Raphaël said. “While she was talking, a soldier came in and told me Gérard had hung himself! Her face stayed quiet… Even when Rozéfort found the money in her trunk, she kept on saying that Gérard was a thief.”
Bele also doesn’t believe Jean-Gilles committed suicide. “He’s dead because of the money,” he said. Shortly after the hanging, Bele and Raphaël both lost their jobs at the base.
The northern region’s former Government Delegate, Georgemain Prophète, represented the Haitian state in its initial dealings with the UN on how to probe Jean-Gilles’ death. They agreed the Haitian judiciary would open an investigation, he said.
The case was given to Heidi Fortuné, a Cap Haïtien investigating judge (juge d’instruction) since 2006.
“The autopsy can only show whether or not he was strangled, but it can’t determine if it was a suicide or if someone else hung him,” said Fortuné. “They sent me the case to investigate if it was a suicide or not – that’s my job.” Continue reading “The Death of Gérard Jean-Gilles: How the UN Stonewalled Haitian Justice”
Here’s a round-up of some of odds and ends that I haven’t gotten around to posting until now.
First, there’s this piece for Haiti Liberte: WikiLeaks Reveal: Expecting Civilian Deaths, US Embassy Approved of Deadly Attack on Crowded Haitian Slum. The article describes how a top Embassy official agreed with private sector leaders like Reginald Boulos, who now holds influence over Haiti’s reconstruction, that MINUSTAH should attack Cite Soleil knowing full well that innocent Haitians would be killed by the “peacekeepers” during the operation.
For more on the Port Salut abuses, there are these interviews I did with Democracy Now!, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and if you speak Spanish, this Uruguayan media outlet. The five soldiers accused of abusing Johnny Jean in the video are reported to have been jailed in Uruguay pending sentencing. 17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph, who was pregnant with a Uruguayan soldier’s child when this was published, gave birth to a healthy boy a few days ago. She told me yesterday she hasn’t been able to reach the father in Uruguay to tell him yet, but that when they last talked he said he’d seen an article about her.
Amnesty International issued an action alert that you can participate in about the eviction threat to Camp Mosaic, which I reported on a few weeks ago. And this interview with Dr. Renaud Piarroux about cholera and its origins in Haiti is well worth reading.
Finally, I’d like to shout out this heartfelt and insightful reflection from Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera’s post-quake Haiti correspondent (check out his new film, produced in part by Haitian journalist Yvon Vilius), especially this part: “I would have liked to stay in Haiti forever. If you spend any significant time there, you will believe, as I did, that Haiti deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper, every single day. It is a permanent, urgent and unjustified humanitarian tragedy.”
I feel the same way. To me, it’s not just the humanitarian tragedy that makes Haiti worthy of front page coverage every day, but the extraordinary way that tragedy is politically and internationally maintained. There are stark political choices (some examples) that keep Haiti mired in this state which implicate a wide range of powerful groups in Haiti and across the globe. Sebastian’s team did a great job of exposing many of them while listening to and projecting the voices of ordinary Haitians.
This contrasts with some recently sloppy reporting by the Associated Press. An anti-MINUSTAH protest march last Wednesday was completely peaceful from the start, when it was confronted by MINUSTAH soldiers in a jeep, very nearly until it reached its destination in Chanmas. When the march arrived near the palace, Haitian police immediately began launching tear gas canisters, to which the protesters responded by throwing rocks. This can be observed in a video I produced.
The Associated Press team was not present at that time, to my knowledge. I saw them walking down towards the protests hours later, after many of the demonstrators had left and only a small band of rock-throwers remained. But the AP wrote that protesters had “fled into” the camps in Chanmas (they may have since improved the language from the original article), which I did not observe (one resident of the tent camp told me he did not blame the protesters for the tear gas). The AP did not even mention the peaceful march. And today, another AP article reduces all recent anti-UN protests in Haiti to “rock-throwing.” I already pointed out some serious flaws in their initial reporting on the Port Salut abuses.
They should do better. Update: One of the AP’s photographers may have been present as the march itself reached Chanmas.
Or is living with swarms of mosquitoes and an overpowering stench in the area an acceptable level of suffering for Haitians? They’re resilient people, after all.
Interviewed in the video is Dantes Eseck, whose house is directly across from the UN peacekeeping base (there are two different bases) in Port Salut. His house is visible on the left at the 16 second mark. He’s a painter and his wife is a teacher. I wasn’t able to show in the video, but the manhole seen at the beginning is one of several spaced out evenly with connecting pipes along a dirt road leading to the base, and not further.
Check out this photo gallery to get a better view.
Below is a MINUSTAH spokeswoman’s official response. Here is the UN’s response in New York.
II. WASTE MANAGMENT SYSTEM
Whenever there is a technical problem related to sanitation and waste management issues, being in Port Salut or in other areas of Haiti, MINUSTAH discusses them with the local authorities, with whom it coordinates all necessary efforts in order to solve it and keep improving the sanitation and waste management system. Important surveillance measures also exist and inspection teams are regularly dispatched to the field to monitor/test the waste and sanitation systems.
MINUSTAH is not the only player in this chain of waste management. There are several other actors, including the companies in charge of garbage, waste collection, the local authorities, the state of infrastructures in the country as well as the riverine population.
MINUSTAH is currently in the process of installing water treatment plants in its bases, in order to be fully independent in the whole chain of waste management and be able to control the process for A to Z.
I received this response from MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sylvie van den Wildenberg yesterday. Johnny Jones?
1 SEA ALLEGATION YOUNG GIRL PREGNANT OF AN URUGUAYN PEACEKEEPER (PIC STORY 7 SPET 2011)
MINUSTAH is investigating on every serious misconduct allegation brought to its attention, and it does not necessarily request an external complaint – the case of the soldier involved in this specific incident is a good illustration of it:
The investigation was opened upon by the Commander of the Uruguay contingent himself, after he suspected that the soldier had some relation with a local. This case was not brought to MINUSTAH by the victim or her family; And indeed, it was a very serious breach of the Code of Conduct and the girl was a minor.
MINUSTAH got in touch with the victim and her family as soon as the case was brought to its attention by the contingent commander (as the family has reported to the media).
As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby
The fact that the UN is not communicating on every single case of misconduct by his staff can be discussed – debated/ but one has to take into account the need to protect the victims, and respect their dignity. The Johnny Jones case is a good illustration of that need: the victim is today highly exposed thanks to the facts that some people found that it was a good idea to spread the video on the net and through cell phones, regardless of the respect of the dignity of the victim, which is now stigmatized;
PORT SALUT, Sep 7, 2011 (IPS) – Seventeen-year-old Rose Mina Joseph says she is nine months pregnant. Her belly is swollen and she moves slowly, placing each step, as she walks around her family’s dusty yard.
The father, she says, is a Uruguayan soldier from the local U.N. peacekeeping battalion named Julio. She holds up a photo of him smiling and embracing her at her seventeenth birthday party, on Jan. 8 this year. IPS verified her birth date by looking at her birth certificate.
Joseph says that five days after her birthday, she became pregnant with the soldier’s child. “Nowadays, sometimes I feel anemic,” she told IPS. “I’m afraid I won’t have the money to pay the hospital when I give birth.”
A copy of a wire transfer receipt shows that Julio Cesar Posse Juncal sent her 150 dollars from Montevideo, Uruguay on Jul. 15. Joseph complained that he hadn’t sent more money for her in August.
“Sexual relations with minors (under 18 years old), whether consensual or not, are deemed to be sexual abuse and, therefore, prohibited,” acting Deputy Spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Eduardo del Buey said in a briefing Wednesday following a question by IPS about the allegations.
He did not address Joseph’s specific case. A U.N. peacekeeping mission spokesperson in Haiti said they are investigating all accusations of misconduct in Port Salut. She did not elaborate.
Under Haitian law, an individual must be 18 years old to give sexual consent. Continue reading “HAITI: United Nations Troops Accused of Exploiting Local Women (with UN response)”
I’ve been asked a number of times how I obtained the cell phone of the apparent assault by Uruguayan UN troops on Johnny Jean. The answer is simple: The video is circulating on cell phones in Port Salut. On Wednesday, after speaking with the family at the courthouse, they allowed me to make a copy off the victim’s cousin’s phone.
More interesting is how the video was initially obtained, through what local activist Ernso Valentin called, “the strategy of the population.” Yesterday evening I found the two young men who, by all accounts, swiped the video from a soldier’s phone. They explained to me what happened – about a week after July 18, they said, the date of the assault. It all started with an upbeat, pulsating Spanish song (which I stupidly mistook for Konpas at first).
Viaud Fegens: “Me and Jean-Michel were passing by the base. A soldier named Leo called out to us. I went and sat down and he to put the music on his telephone.”
Leveille Jean-Michel: “We were listening to some music and he liked it.”
VF: “We’ve passed by the base before playing Spanish music. This time, he liked it. He asked me to put it on his phone and he gave me his phone. So I went into his phone to see if it had cool things or nice videos on it. I took his phone, and I’m looking inside to see what it has on it. Then, I came upon the video! When I saw the video, I said [to Jean Michel], ‘Hey look at this!’ The soldier went to sit down. So we’re looking at the phone, and we see the video. I said, ‘Look, that’s my cousin. My cousin, Johnny.’ I’m looking at it and I see what they did. I said, ‘Oh mezami [roughly translates to holy crap]!’ I transmitted the video via Bluetooth onto this phone. I said, ‘Go give him his phone.’ So then I have the video, I’m watching it again, and it’s dominating me. It’s giving me problems [in my head]. So then later, we had a meeting across from the Commiseriat. MINUSTAH was there. We talked about everything bad that MINUSTAH does in Port Salut. They’re dumping their trash in aviation… Now when we come to the subject of what they did to Johnny, they said they don’t believe it happened. Then we showed them the proof. The MINUSTAH chief saw the video, and he’s shocked! He sweats!”
LJM: “He’s afraid. He’s afraid.”
VF: “There were three of them. The deputy was there too. He asked us to transmit it by Bluetooth for him. We did it. He looks again, he watches again, and he’s shocked, sweating.”
LJM: “It was weighing on me since I saw that. I was shocked when I was seeing it, it made me feel terrible. They committed the act but they didn’t want people outside to know about it. Yes, I thought it was rape. Because he’s yelling, ‘Help!'””
VF: “He’s saying, “Problem, problem, that he’s in a problem.” And they pulled down his pants. The video is proof. Because when they saw it, they could see what the soldiers did. Everyone who sees this video can see what happens. I heard about the protest tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll attend. But MINUSTAH represents a force in the country. It’s MINUSTAH that helped created a situation where we don’t have war or gunfire. They gave us some calm. But they violated a young man, they’re dumping trash, [AH: didn’t understand this part]… this isn’t good. We didn’t have these things in our country. It’s them who gave us cholera. We never had these things before.”
Viaud’s mother is worried. “Are they going to be ok? I’m scared. Will something happen to them?” she kept asking me. I left my number and tried to assure her that nothing bad would happen.
Update 9/16/11: After removing the photo and the boys names on the advice of some commenters, I’ve just restored them. I’m in touch with the boys and they want recognition for what they did. Viaud specifically asked that his photo and name be included. His mother never objected.
There are further complaints against the UN’s Uruguayan peacekeeping battalion in Port Salut, beyond the incident captured on cell phone video detailed yesterday, as described in the slideshow below.
Ernso Valentin and Deputy Sinal Bertrand also allege that MINUSTAH troops have been engaged in exchanging food for sex and prostitution with young girls.
Update: Also see this piece I filed for Al Jazeera English, which includes more details and Haitian voices from Port Salut.
Went out to Port Salut to look into allegations of abuse leveled at UN peacekeepers. Most of what I found is in this story, just published by ABC News:
Haitians in this remote seaside town are demanding an investigation into allegations that United Nations peacekeeping troops pinned down an 18-year-old Haitian man and subjected him to a humiliating sexual assault.
The alleged assault occurred in July, but graphic cell phone video surfaced in recent days, showing what appears to be the four UN troops in camouflage and some wearing the trademark sky blue berets attacking the man. As the video began circulating through the coastal village, it sparked a growing sense of outrage there and prompted the victim’s mother and father to seek criminal charges against the United Nations peacekeeping officers, who are from Uruguay. Both parents submitted written depositions on Wednesday in Port Salut’s courthouse.
A medical certificate filed with the court in Haiti and obtained by ABC News, alleges the victim was beaten and had sustained injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted.
Word of the alleged attack quickly made its way up the chain of command at the United Nations, both in Haiti and in New York, where officials are now vowing to see the incident investigated and the alleged perpetrators brought to justice. Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesperson for peacekeeping operations based in New York, told ABC News that officials in his office first became aware of the allegations Saturday. They sent a diplomatic note to the Uruguayan mission requesting the country deploy a national investigative officer to Haiti immediately.
“The defense minister of Uruguay has expressed deep concern and said they will take all the necessary action,” Bonnardeaux said. “We see this as a breakdown of the command and control structure. If the allegations are proved, the assailants must be brought to justice.”
Messages left Friday with the Uruguayan mission in New York were not returned.
Bonnardeaux said the troops involved in the incident have been confined to their barracks.
Under an agreement between Haiti and the U.N., peacekeeping troops are only subject to discipline and legal action from their country of origin. Uruguay has deployed 1,100 troops to the quake-battered island nation. Bonnardeaux said the primary purpose for the U.N. troops being in Haiti is to insure the protection of Haitian civilians.
But that is not what appears to be happening on the one-minute video, which pans out from a sideways close-up of the alleged victim’s strained face to reveal his body being held down on a mattress by the uniformed men. The alleged assailants can be heard laughing as a shirtless soldier kneels behind the Haitian victim and appears to be assaulting him. The video ends as a soldier grabs the bedraggled young man’s arm and seems to try pulling him onto his feet.
Interviewed by a reporter at the courthouse, the young man said he was snatched from behind as he walked by the U.N. base. He alleged he was beaten and sexually molested. “They’re bad people — vagabonds,” he said. The young man’s mother, a street merchant, held up a pair of black pants to show they were torn. She said it was not until the video surfaced that she discovered what had happened.
“He had stayed in his bed during about two weeks but he never told me what was wrong with him,” she said. “We’re humiliated … After I saw the video, I couldn’t stop crying.”
Uruguayan Navy Lieutenant Nicolas Casariego confirmed to ABC News that the video is real. He spoke through the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the base where the alleged incident took place.
Casariego, the base commander, called the apparent abuse in the video “a game” and said it wasn’t sexual in nature. “It’s a young guy who is normally around here, like these people,” he said, pointing to a Haitian family sitting outside their home twenty yards away. He said the soldiers engaged in “some kind of bullying, but nothing more.”
The alleged assault is just the latest in a series of incidents that have frayed relations between Haitians and the 12,000 foreign troops who have been stationed in Haiti under the U.N. banner now for several years. Anti-U.N. riots shut down major cities and thoroughfares after an outbreak of cholera last October. Rumors circulated that a U.N. base had introduced the disease to Haiti. Scientific studies by the Centers for Disease Control and others have since confirmed the source of the outbreak was a Nepalese peacekeeping base in central Haiti.
Sinal Bertrand, a Haitian parliamentary deputy from the Port Salut area, said he began talks with U.N. officials last week about other allegations against the soldiers by residents of Port Salut, ranging from sexually exploiting young women to environmentally polluting the area.
Andre Jean, a local mechanic, summed up those tensions, saying he does not believe the peacekeepers make him any more secure.
“They aren’t useful to us at all,” he said. “They just go back and forth to the beach, nothing more here in Port Salut. They just check out the young girls. If something happens to you and you go to them to ask for help, they tell you, go to the police.”
Bertrand said he is calling on the U.N. to ensure that the alleged assailants in this latest case are punished.
“If they don’t collaborate with the justice system, I’ll denounce them,” he said. “I’m expecting [the U.N.] to respond, until there’s justice.”
For the record, I’m not sure the medical certificate says what my colleagues at ABC News believe. My reading is that it identified a still-healing anal laceration. The rest was reportage of the family’s accusations.