Brazilian military troops accused of rape, pedophilia, coercion and child abandonment on Haiti Peace Mission
By Marques Travae
Too many unanswered questions in this report, one of which, for me at least, is, what leads people to this sort of behavior? And why is it that these sorts of acts so commonly reported among invading and/or occupying military forces? In a shocking new report, a study finds that members of peacekeeping forces in Haiti raped, had children with young girls before abandoning them.
Researchers heard 2,500 Haitians about the performance of the Stabilization Mission – Minustah – which lasted 13 years. Of this group, about 265 people told stories about children being abused, coerced, raped. As I’ve been aware of the situation of Brazilian troops in Haiti for a number of years, looking at some of the photos again brought three things to my mind immediately.
One, the racial aspect of the people being violated and two, the similarity between these photos and those of Brazilian troops in occupied areas of Rio de Janeiro. The third is the fact that accusations of sexual abuse have also been reported in military operations in Rio’s favelas. The titles of a few of the following reports (in Portuguese) say it all: ”Mulheres acusam seis PMs de UPP do Rio de estupro” (Women accuse six Rio UPP Military Police of rape), PM do Rio afasta policiais denunciados por agressão e abuso sexual a jovens (Rio’s Military Police dismiss police officers accused of assaulting and sexually abusing young people), and Policial da UPP Mangueirinha é preso por estupro e tentativa de homicídio (Police officer of UPP unit in Mangueirinha arrested for rape and attempted murder). UPP are the Pacifying Police Units occupying and terrorizing Rio’s favelas comunities.
The details of the report from Haiti are included in a study by Sabine Lee, a history professor at the University of Birmingham, and Susan Bartels, a clinical scientist at Queen’s University in Ontario. The report documented numerous cases in which underage girls were forced to raise their own children in conditions of extreme poverty.
“11-year-old girls were sexually abused and impregnated,” says the study. The peacekeepers were in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, the longest of the UN in a country and plagued by allegations of abuse against civilians, and a cholera outbreak that left more than 10,000 dead.
Some of the children were born as a result of sexual abuse while most frequent occurrences were of a common situation in which small amounts of money or food were exchanged for sex with women and girls that were extremely poor. In other cases reported, there were situations of consensual dating with soldiers who would later leave the country.
“They put some coins in your hands to leave a baby in you,” said one Haitian interviewed by the authors. The study was based on a survey of 2,500 women living near peacekeeping bases. Respondents raised these questions on their own, according to the researchers. The complaint involves men from 13 countries, but most of the men accused of abandonment come from Brazil and Uruguay. Lee is clear about where the responsibility lies.
Of those interviews, over 200 mentioned the issue of children of the men wearing the blue helmets. According to information provided by the interviewees, 28.3% of the children would be children of Uruguayans and 21.9% of Brazilians, who constituted Minustah’s largest contingent.
In some cases, women and family members described consensual relationships that ended when peacekeepers left Haiti. One Haitian woman is quoted describing “a series of 12- and 13-year-old women” who have become pregnant and left “in misery with babies in their hands.”
In 2014, one Brazilian soldier convinced a 16-year-old Haitian girl to go with him to where Brazilian troops were lodged where she could get food. When they got there, the man raped the girl, a virgin, while threatening her with a weapon. She got pregnant from the encounter. On that same day, three other women in the country reported abuse, but none had the courage to filed an official complaint out of fear of retaliation.
In yet another shocking case, a teenage boy was victim of a gang rape committed by 11 soldiers from Uruguay who also filmed the violation with a cell phone. The overwhelming majority of abusers go unpunished – and the UN itself has its hands ties, as it has no jurisdiction over the troops, and any punishment is the responsibility of the countries that send the soldiers.
“It’s not a UN problem, it’s a Brazilian military problem or a Uruguayan military problem,” said Lee, one of the authors. “But the UN has not found a way to hold the troops of the member countries responsible,” she continued.
In response to the accusations, the UN issued the following statement: “Our approach puts victims’ rights and dignity at the forefront of their efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse,” the UN responded.
Although the study doesn’t calculate an estimate of exactly how many children of men in blue helmets were born in Haiti, according to Lee, it’s possible that part of the 265 reports concern the same child, as many of them were not made by the mothers, but by their relatives or acquaintances.
In one case, the study reports the case of a 14-year-old, a Catholic school girl, who met a Brazilian soldier. After revealing that she was pregnant, the soldier said he would with the baby, but then he exited the country, returning to Brazil. The researchers also found that the teenager was forced out of the home in which she lived with her family. Today, that child is 4 years old. The mother also reported that she hadn’t received any help from the UN, Brazil or the Haitian government.
“It’s quite clear that they took advantage of girls who could clearly be understood and viewed as minors,” said Lee.
The Minustah mission was approved and began in 2004 after the overthrow and exile of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Brazil sent over 37,000 soldiers to Haiti. With the withdrawal of troops in 2017, Minustah was replaced by a political mission.
In January 2018, the Haiti-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed paternity proceedings in the Haitian courts on behalf of 10 children with the objective of attaining financial support for them. The UN, however, has been anything but supportive, having refused to provide paternity tests to the local court.
According to UN peacekeeping spokesman, the matter was under serious consideration and affirmed that 29 Haitian victims and 32 children born in the country as a result of exploitation and sexual abuse had in fact received support. Under the current system, the UN can look into crimes and send blue helmets back to their home countries, but it has no authority to prosecute them.
In 2005, General Augusto Heleno led a miserable raid operation in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil neighborhood, which ended with at least 60 civilians shot down.
The head of the Brazilian troops for the mission in Haiti was General Augusto Heleno, currently the head of the Bolsonaro government’s Institutional Security Office (GSI). In addition to the controversy surrounding the trail of sexual abuse in the country, in July of 2005, Heleno was also accused of killing up to 60 civilians in a disasterous operation in Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil neighborhood
During that action in which a combatant leader known as Dread Wilme was killed, Brazilian troops fired over 20,000 bullets. The operation, known as “Punho de Ferro”, or ‘Iron Fist’, was part of Heleno’s crusade to restore order in the country after the overthrow of Aristide. Heleno called the action a “success”, but human right groups labeled the action a “massacre”, with numerous civilians being killed caught in crossfire.
Information from Jornal GGN, Revista Fórum, O Globo, Exame and R7
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