UN report on Haiti reveals ’sexual exploitation’ by peacekeepers

Members of a UN peacekeeping mission engaged in “transactional sex” with more than 225 Haitian women who said they needed to do so to obtain things like food and medication, a sign that sexual exploitation remains significantly underreported in such missions, according to a new report.

The draft by the Office of Internal Oversight Services looks (OIOS) at the way UN peacekeeping, which has about 125,000 people in some of the world’s most troubled areas, deals with the persistent problem of sexual abuse and exploitation. The report, expected to be released this month, says major challenges remain a decade after a groundbreaking UN report first tackled the issue.

Among its findings: About a third of alleged sexual abuse involves minors under 18. Assistance to victims is “severely deficient.” The average investigation by OIOS, which prioritises cases involving minors or rape, takes more than a year.

Widespread confusion remains on the ground about consensual sex and exploitation. To help demonstrate that, investigators headed to the poorest country in the western hemisphere. A year ago, the report says, investigators interviewed 231 people in Haiti who said they’d had transactional sexual relationships with UN peacekeepers. “For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need,’” the report says. Urban and suburban women received “church shoes,’ mobile phones, laptops and perfume, as well as money.

“In cases of non-payment, some women withheld the badges of peacekeepers and threatened to reveal their infidelity via social media,” the report says. “Only seven interviewees knew about the UN policy prohibiting sexual exploitation and abuse.”

For all of last year, the total number of allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against UN peacekeepers was 51, down from 66 the year before, according to the latest annual report.

The draft report doesn’t say over what time frame the “transactional sex” in Haiti occurred. The peacekeeping mission there was first authorised in 2004 and, as of the end of March, had more than 7,000 uniformed troops. It is one of four missions that have accounted for most allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in recent years, along with those in Congo, Liberia and South Sudan.

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