AP Report Documents Child Sexual Abuse By U.N. Peacekeepers In Haiti
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today the U.N. Security Council voted to end its peacekeeping mission in Haiti. It deemed the country stable enough to go without the troops come October. But U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley also said the mission had been a nightmare for many Haitians. She cited an Associated Press report that gave a graphic description of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing homeless children.
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NIKKI HALEY: One boy was gang raped in 2011 by peacekeepers who disgustingly filmed it on a cell phone. What do we say to these kids? Did these peacekeepers keep them safe?
SHAPIRO: Around the world, the AP found nearly 2,000 allegations of abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers over the past dozen years, and the AP says a small fraction of the accused served jail time. Atul Khare runs the U.N. department in charge of peacekeeper conduct and joins us now from U.N. headquarters in New York. Welcome.
ATUL KHARE: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: There have been allegations like these for years. The U.N. has known that this is a problem. Why haven't you been able to fix it?
KHARE: We have been trying to improve from year to year. And I agree with you. There is a problem. I strongly believe that every single allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel is truly appalling, so we have been trying to improve. In fact, our secretary general, Mr. Antonio Guterres, took up this issue in the beginning of his term. With his new approach, I think we will be better in providing support and assistance to the victims.
SHAPIRO: Part of the problem seems to be that legal accountability rests with the country that sent these troops, not with the U.N. How do you change that when you have many countries sending peacekeeping troops that those countries just don't feel any pressure to hold those peacekeepers accountable for the crimes they commit when they're working for the U.N.?
KHARE: Well, that may have been the case a few years ago. I agree. But now we are working in partnership with them to regularly remind them of the need to complete their investigations on time and...
SHAPIRO: Is reminding them of the need really sufficient? Don't they need some more pressure than that?
KHARE: No, we keep on following it up. And in fact, my officers do keep on verifying that appropriate actions have been taken. Our criminal accountability is improving. It does not get there. I'm the first one to acknowledge the shortcomings of the system.
SHAPIRO: The Associated Press quoted a human rights lawyer in Haiti who represents a dozen women impregnated by peacekeepers. The lawyer also represents victims of a deadly cholera outbreak that was linked to peacekeepers that killed around 10,000 people. And the lawyer, Mario Joseph, told the AP, imagine if the U.N. was going to the United States and raping children and bringing cholera. Human rights aren't just for rich, white men.
KHARE: May I...
SHAPIRO: What do you say to him?
KHARE: May I stop you one minute?
KHARE: I don't think the U.N. is raping children. I do believe that there are a limited number of people who are acting contrary to the principles and purposes which the U.N. stands for. We keep on trying to take action against them. But to say that the U.N. is raping children I don't think is a fair statement to me.
SHAPIRO: But isn't this part of the problem - that Sri Lankan, in this case, officials who were working on behalf of the U.N. commit horrible crimes, and the U.N. says, well, it's not the U.N. doing this; it's these Sri Lankan individuals.
KHARE: No, and that is why in fact in the Sri Lankan case we identified 23 people as being responsible for these cases. There were actions which were taken, including imprisonment, dismissal from service. But that does not help the victims. And that is why we have not been trying to focus much more on the victims.
SHAPIRO: Ambassador Nikki Haley says the U.S. has made it clear that if these abuses do not stop, U.S. financial compensation will end. Are you prepared to face that choice?
KHARE: In the present cases, we put them on what we call annual leave without pay. We immediately stop payments due to those people if...
SHAPIRO: But these people are committing appalling crimes. Saying they're not going to be paid for the work they've done seems wholly inadequate.
KHARE: No, I agree. That is why I'm saying that the investigation is proceeding. This is not the final action. This is the beginning of it - stopping payment. Thereafter, of course I would expect criminal accountabilities. I would expect administrative actions. And all of that will take its course.
SHAPIRO: Atul Khare is the U.N.'s undersecretary general for field support. Thank you for joining us.
KHARE: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.