Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch

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New Report: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the Hands of the UN in Haiti

March 22, 2017 - 02:06
The following is the introduction to an investigative report conducted by independent researcher Mark Snyder entitled "Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the Hands of the United Nation's Stabilization Mission in Haiti." The full report is available here

Investigative Overview


A preliminary independent investigation conducted in areas close to existing or abandoned bases for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brings to light the alarming magnitude of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) at the hands of United Nations personnel in Haiti. The purpose of this investigation is to determine if the initial unreported cases brought to the attention of the author were isolated incidents or are instead a result of a systemic problem present in the UN's mission in Haiti. In consultation with Haitian civil society partners, the following report considers that a further, in-depth investigation into these abuses is vital and urgent.

The results of our investigation strongly suggest that the issue of SEA by United Nations personnel in Haiti is substantial and has been grossly underreported. Using the same methodology in all areas where MINUSTAH bases are or have been located[i], a thorough and in-depth investigation would be expected to identify close to 600 victims who would agree to in-person interviews. This number in itself indicates a victim count that requires immediate attention and significant modifications to current MINUSTAH peacekeeping operations, including with regard to the manner in which UN SEA cases are investigated and reported. These preliminary findings are based on the work of one investigator during 27 days of investigation. Through a network of community contacts in eight areas where there currently is, or where there has been a MINUSTAH base, the investigation identified 42 UN SEA victims who agreed to be interviewed. With a professional investigative team, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise and the resources to cover the entire country, the likely number of documented UN SEA allegations from victims would be expected to be significantly higher.

The UN Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), under the Department of Field Services (DFS) documented 75 total allegations of UN SEA countrywide in Haiti[ii] from 2008-2015. In comparison, 40 of the 42 victims interviewed within the limited scope of this independent investigation allegedly suffered sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN personnel during this same time period. Of the remaining two individuals: one stated she was first a victim in 2005, and the exploitation occurred repeatedly until 2015. The other was a victim of a single incident prior to 2008. Only four of the 42 said they had previously reported the SEA in some manner to the UN, suggesting that the magnitude of the problem may be dramatically underestimated by the CDU. The victims we spoke to were not made aware of whether their cases were included in the 75 total allegations documented by the CDU. All four victims stated they were not satisfied with the subsequent investigatory process or its results.

In comparison to the CDU's 75 total allegations, the estimated total possible victims of SEA - during the years 2008-2015 – based on an extrapolation of the results of our investigation – is 564. Again, this is an estimate derived from the findings of a single investigator and based only on allegations from those who agreed to meet and be interviewed.

The preliminary results of our investigation show that actions taken, such as the creation of the CDU and the extensive efforts with the three pillars of prevention of misconduct, enforcement of UN standards of conduct, and remedial action, do not appear to have been adequate in preventing further SEA perpetrated by MINUSTAH personnel. These efforts have failed to interrupt a persistent cycle of exploitation and abuse followed by UN statements of regret and reform, and then additional incidents of SEA.

The UN has stated in numerous publications that while there has been an approximately 50 percent increase in UN peacekeeping personnel in the world, the number of SEA accusations has been steadily decreasing.[iii] However, within the seemingly disconnected array of the UN's SEA reporting and response mechanisms[iv], wide concern is expressed by UN personnel about the validity of the official numbers of UN SEA allegations. Many suspect that the numbers and their decline do not accurately reflect the occurrences of exploitation and abuse.[v] The results of this investigation thus far have shown that in Haiti, as UN personnel suspected, this downward trend of accusations is not due to decreased levels of UN SEA, but instead is caused by a reduction in victims' reporting of these acts.

The reforms and initiatives that have been taken over the years since MINUSTAH's 2004 inception appear to be inadequate to prevent UN SEA and fail to encourage victims to come forward. For these reasons, we strongly suggests that a professional independent investigation, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise in sexual exploitation and abuse, be undertaken in Haiti at all locations that currently have or have had MINUSTAH bases so to determine the level of sexual exploitiation and abuse by United Nations' personnel. In order for MINUSTAH to fulfill its mandate of assisting Haiti with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law and support efforts to "promote and protect human rights, particularly of women and children, in order to ensure individual accountability for human rights abuses and redress for victims"[vi], UN SEA victims must not remain hidden in the shadows. Instead, their existence must be officially recognized, and their voices must be a part of the discussion on the necessary reforms to the UN peacekeeping system.

Introduction

Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Haiti has been extensively documented since MINUSTAH's founding in 2004.[vii] Notably, two years after the UN openly recognized SEA by UN peacekeepers as a problem[viii] and sanctioned the 2005 UN Zeid report focusing on UN SEA and describing specific actions to be taken to eliminate future abuse[ix], investigations in Haiti uncovered that the mission's peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were committing extensive sexual exploitation and abuse including rape and transactional sex. This led to a reported 114 soldier repatriations, a move presented as a model for other UN peacekeeping missions. Of those repatriated to Sri Lanka, none of the perpetrators were criminally prosecuted in their home country[x]. In response to the scandal, the UN assured that they remained committed to both to the zero-tolerance policy on SEA and to best practices in peacekeeping.[xi] Other highly visible cases, such as the repeated rape and subsequent kidnapping of a young special-needs boy by peacekeepers in Goniave, Haiti[xii], caused the mission to express outrage and the official response was that the mission would take their responsibility in dealing with abuses by UN personnel extremely seriously.[xiii]

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Haiti Inaugurates a New President Dogged by Money Laundering Probe, Low Voter Turnout

February 7, 2017 - 03:21

Jovenel Moïse will be inaugurated as Haiti’s new president today as the country returns to constitutional order after a one-year extra-constitutional period of interim rule due to electoral delays.  Moïse had previously come in first in an October 2015 election, only to have the results thrown out due to fraud. Rerun in November 2016 under the interim government that replaced former president Michel Martelly, the elections had Moïse securing more than 50 percent of the vote, winning in the first round.

But serious questions continue to dog Moïse as he takes office. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reports:

Since his win, Moïse has been on a countrywide tour, celebrating his victory, endorsing candidates for the recently held local elections — and battling money-laundering suspicions.

Moïse has dismissed the suspicions as the work of political opponents. The probe began in 2013 under Martelly’s administration when the anti-financial crimes unit was tipped off about a suspicious bank transaction, the current head of the unit, Sonel Jean-François, has said.

Over the weekend, an investigative judge assigned to the case sent his findings to the government prosecutor, but the judge’s order has not been made public. Government prosecutor Danton Léger has yet to say whether he will dismiss the case, send it back to the judge for further review, or prosecute Moïse.

Should he seek to prosecute Moïse, Haiti could find itself in an even deeper crisis than the one triggered by the annulled October 2015 presidential elections.

In a 7-page letter dated February 6, Leger, the government prosecutor, requested further information on the allegations against Moïse, ensuring it will continue to hang over the new president.

The money laundering allegations, however, are far from the only topic overshadowing Moïse’s inauguration today. A new report on Haiti’s November elections, from international legal observers, has raised questions as to how effective the new administration may be given the historically low turnout. The report’s authors also note that Haiti’s national identity office was hindered by significant problems, affecting the ability of Haitians to vote:

The report notes that despite many improvements in security and electoral administration over the 2015 elections, the 21 percent voter turnout represents the lowest participation rate for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945. “Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.

The report documents how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on November 20, due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.

The report’s authors also note with concern that Moïse could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former president Michel Martelly, who surrounded himself with figures from the Duvalier dictatorship and was criticized by human rights groups for his intimidation of journalists and imprisonment of opposition activists. “With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which published the report with the National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.”

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Seven Years after the Earthquake: Haiti in an unprecedented humanitarian, food, and climate crisis

January 12, 2017 - 04:47

To mark the 7th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a number of organizations belonging to the Haiti Advocacy Working Group released the following statement. For a full list of sponsoring organizations, click here

January 12, 2017 – Washington, DC –  On the seventh anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, human rights groups, faith-based organizations, policy institutes and humanitarian organizations would like to honor those who lost their lives in the earthquake, as well as those who lost their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters is the result of human policies, which can be changed. As the election crisis comes to an end, and President-elect Jovenel Moise is set to take office on February 7, 2017, there’s a unique opportunity for sustained change now.

January 12, 2010 Earthquake

The earthquake and the more than 59 aftershocks that followed took the lives of an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people, displaced 1,300,000, and directly affected 3,000,000. Despite the billions in aid offered, thousands remain homeless. As of September 2016, the International Migration Organization (IOM) estimated 55,000 people remain in spontaneous or organized camps. For hundreds of thousands of other Haitians “Building Back Better” left them in precarious ‘permanent’ housing vulnerable to natural disasters and the effects of climate change to which Haiti is ranked one of the most vulnerable countries.

Hurricane Matthew on October 4, 2016

The Category 4 Hurricane with winds reaching up to 145 mph tore through the country, causing widespread destruction of buildings, agriculture, infrastructure and human lives, directly affecting 1,400,000 people, taking an estimated 546 lives, displacing 175,500, and pushing 806,000 into extreme food insecurity.

The Haitian government, along with civil society, responded to Matthew with prior evacuations and warnings. Various Haitian agencies are now coordinating the hurricane response with civil society actors and international agencies, but funding is greatly needed. The government and UN’s Flash Appeal for $21 million to provide food assistance to 800,000 people over three months still lacks 44 percent of the needed funds.

Many Matthew victims continue to live in temporary shelters or shelters pieced together with scrap aluminum, tarps, and wood. Approximately 750,000 Haitians are without safe water, causing the number of cholera cases to double in some of the hardest-hit areas. An estimated 80-100 percent of the crops and 50 percent of livestock were destroyed in the country’s south and southwest. These livestock not only provide food, but are the savings bank for many who reside in the countryside – producing a decapitalization in rural Haiti reminiscent of the 1980’s Kreyol Pig eradication.

The devastation of the 2016 hurricane season follows on the heels of the worst drought Haiti has seen in 15 years. The opportunity to replant certain crops during winter planting season was largely missed due to insufficient access to seeds. The ripples of this are felt across the country with the Grand Anse department, the ‘bread basket’ producing 60 percent of the locally produced food. The damage to the Grand Anse renders communities dependent on imported food and increased food prices by 15 – 25 percent.

Haiti’s Future

Although the earthquake, drought and hurricane may make Haiti appear condemned to suffer from natural disasters, in fact the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters is the product of human policies that can be reversed. The international community has today a unique opportunity to support Haiti in breaking free from its cycle of extreme vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, and to move away from aid dependency.

In the short-term, houses, hospitals, roads and schools still must be rebuilt. Haiti also urgently needs support to control and respond to the surging cholera crisis that took 420 lives and sickened 39,329 in 2016 alone. The UN’s new two-track cholera response announced December 1, 2016, promises to reduce cholera transmission and improve access to care and treatment. If funded, the response should control the outbreak in Matthew-affected areas as well as other parts of the country, and also promises to provide material assistance to victims of the epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010.

The international community must also be reliable over the long term. A key priority must be to fully fund the UN’s cholera response, which proposes to build the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to eliminate cholera from the country over the next 10-15 years. Haiti will also need reforestation and crop support to ensure long-term food security and address environmental degradation and climate change. Furthermore, ongoing support for disaster mitigation and preparedness is badly needed. Preparation is by far the best form of disaster response.

We encourage greater accountability and transparency of international actors in Haiti. With President-elect Jovenel Moise set to take office on February 7, 2017, any intervention in Haiti must reinforce the capacity of the government and local institutions, and include participation in project design and execution from aid recipients. This type of approach will make aid more effective and sustainable, and allow Haitians to move towards autonomy.

In solidarity with the grief suffered by families of victims of the 2010 earthquake and hurricane Matthew, we honor the memories of those who have passed by translating lessons into action. We can and must do better to address the current humanitarian, food and climate crisis.

Senator-Elect and Former Paramilitary Leader Guy Philippe Arrested on Drug Charges

January 5, 2017 - 15:07

UPDATE 1/6/2017: The federal indictment against Philippe has been unsealed. It is available here

Guy Philippe, a paramilitary coup leader and DEA most-wanted fugitive who was elected to Haiti’s Senate late last year, was arrested on Thursday, just days before he would have been sworn into office and obtained immunity. Philippe has been wanted under a sealed drug indictment in the United States for years, but previous attempts at arresting him failed. Last year, the DEA confirmed to me that they maintained “apprehension authority” for Philippe, but would not confirm if any active efforts were underway to do so. He will now be extradited to the United States to face charges, though no indictment has been unsealed as of Thursday night.

Although Philippe has spent most of the past decade in Haiti’s rural Grand Anse department where he maintains strict control, he became more active in the country’s politics over the past year as he campaigned for senator. President-elect Jovenel Moise, from the PHTK party, openly campaigned with Philippe and his party allied with Philippe’s early in 2016. A PHTK adviser, Renald Luberice, tweeted shortly after the arrest that it was “illegal and arbitrary.” Fires and roadblocks almost immediately went up in Phillipe’s hometown and surrounding areas, according to local news reports.

After last year’s elections were scrapped due to fraud and Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor, Philippe became one of the most outspoken critics of the new interim government that took over. In February 2016, he threatened "civil war" if elections were not held by that April. In May, with elections still yet to occur, Philippe was alleged to be the ringleader of an armed raid on a police station in Les Cayes, in southern Haiti. Elections were eventually held in November 2016 and Philippe won a seat in the Senate, representing the Grand Anse department. Parties allied with PHTK and Philippe will make up the majority of the incoming parliament to be sworn in next week.

Over the summer, a source close to the Haitian government, who requested anonymity, suggested that the US would move against Philippe before he became Senator to “send a message” to the incoming parliament, which includes other figures accused of corruption and drug trafficking. Now that appears to have happened, but not before he helped his allies secure an electoral victory this past November.

Philippe, however, is widely believed to have been involved in murders, atrocities and other human rights abuses over the past 20 years, while serving a political agenda backed by Haiti’s elite and their international allies. He received training by the US military while a cadet in Ecuador in the early 90s before returning to Haiti in 1995. However former president Jean Bertrand Aristide had disbanded the military that same year, due its long history of involvement in atrocities, human rights abuses and coup d’etats. Philippe, who has, in his own words, “always dreamed of becoming a soldier,” instead became police chief in the Delmas neighborhood of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. During his tenure, according to Human Rights Watch, “dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed, mainly by police under the command of Inspector Berthony Bazile, Philippe’s deputy.”

In 2000, Philippe was accused of orchestrating an attempted coup d’etat against president Rene Preval, but before he could be apprehended he fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic. At first, the Dominican authorities told the Haitian government they would help arrest the fugitive police officer and his allies. According to a former Haitian government official, who requested anonymity, Dominican police apprehended Philippe and were set to hand him over to Haitian authorities, but later reversed themselves. Philippe would remain free until this Thursday.

From his safe-haven in the Dominican Republic, Philippe was accused of leading attacks on Haitian police stations and supporters of president Aristide, who had just been elected for a second time. In an interview with author Peter Hallward, Philippe denied his involvement but added, “don’t worry, when the time is right people will learn what really happened.” At the time, the Aristide administration was under attack both internally and externally. A “civil society” group calling itself the Group of 184, led by Evans Paul, Andy Apaid and Reginald Boulos among others (all now political allies or financiers of PHTK), advocated for Aristide’s ouster. Philippe, when asked about the role of the Group of 184 in the various police station assaults, responded, “I know that certain political leaders and representatives of civil society can help you with this, since they know everything about what happened … Since they’re cowards, however, they’ll just tell you that they know nothing about it.”

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Breakdown of Preliminary Election Results in Haiti

December 6, 2016 - 10:06

More than two weeks after Haitians went to the polls to elect a new president, 16 Senators and 25 Deputies, preliminary results from all races have finally been released. Presidential results have already been contested by the second, third and fourth place finishers while many legislative races will likely be contested as well. However, if the preliminary results are upheld, the November 20 elections will have consolidated nearly unprecedented political power in the hands of PHTK, the party of former president Michel Martelly. While PHTK and its allies appear to have scored electoral victories at both the presidential and legislative level, their political success has occurred in a context of extremely low turnout, raising questions about the significance of their mandate to govern moving forward.

Presidential Results

At the presidential level, Jovenel Moïse of PHTK came in first place with 55.67 percent of the vote. If these results hold,  Moïse will secure the presidency without having to compete in a second-round election. In second, third and fourth place were Jude Celestin of LAPEH with 19.52 percent, Jean-Charles Moïse of the Platfom Pitit Dessalines (PPD) with 11.04 percent and Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas (FL) with 8.99 percent.

While the top four vote getters in the 2016 election were exactly the same as in last year’s election, the results of which were thrown out due to widespread irregularities, the composition of the vote changed dramatically. Jovenel Moïse, who was widely believed to have benefitted from fraud in the 2015 elections, was the only one of the four to increase their vote total over last year. This appears to largely stem from the far wider geographical support that Jovenel Moïse received in 2016, coupled with the other top candidates losing substantial ground.

 

As can be seen above, Jovenel Moïse received over 50 percent of the vote in each department except for the Artibonite and the Sud Est. Similar to in 2015, the strongest areas of support were in the north of the country, where he runs a banana export business. But perhaps the most surprising result this year was that he also received 50 percent of the vote in the Ouest department, home to some 40 percent of registered voters. In 2015, he received just over 20 percent of the vote in the Ouest. This accounts for nearly the entire increase in the number of total votes received by Jovenel Moïse this year.

Still, even with Jovenel Moïse increasing his votes from 2015, the main reason why he was able to win in the first round was that all three other candidates lost significant numbers of votes. Celestin received 185,000 fewer votes, Jean-Charles 104,000 and Narcisse 14,000. If these candidates had simply received the same number of votes as last year, Jovenel Moïse would not have been able to win in the first round.

The long campaign, and the consolidation of private sector funding behind PHTK certainly helped in this regard. With more resources, PHTK was able to more actively campaign and build support throughout the last year. It takes significant money to have party staff across the entire country, an especially important factor in getting one’s supporters to come out to vote on election day. As a result, PHTK had a wider national presence of political party representatives than other parties, according to local observer organizations.  

Another factor that contributed to the vastly different result was that many more voters were either unable or unwilling to participate in this year’s election. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), announced that participation was just 21 percent, compared to 26.6 percent last year. However the rate announced by the CEP includes many thousands of votes that were not counted due to irregularities. If one looks just at valid votes, the participation in this year’s election drops to 17.3 percent. The 26.6 percent figure from last year was based on valid votes.

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