Where does Latin America stand when it comes to contributing peacekeepers to United Nations (UN) missions?
In general, there is a large presence of Latin American peacekeepers in Haiti, which is the only mission in the Western Hemisphere. However, Latin American countries send their troops to many other missions around the world. Their contributions are not highlighted as much as the large presence of Latin American peacekeepers in Haiti. In terms of numbers, Brazil and Argentina send the most troops and police to missions around the world. At the same time, there is a general push to try to get more countries in the region to send peacekeepers through organizations such the Latin American Association of Training Centers for Peace (ALCOPAZ – Asociación Latinoamericana de Centros de Entrenamientos para Operaciones de Paz), based in Rio de Janeiro.
Since 2009, the following countries from the Americas have contributed to UN peacekeeping missions including:
Argentina: Liberia, Ivory Coast, Middle East, South Sudan, Cyprus, East Timor, Haiti, and the Western Sahara.
Bolivia: Haiti, the DRC, Darfur, Afghanistan, Liberia, South Sudan, and the Ivory Coast.
A 19-year old Haitian man who accused six Uruguayan UN peacekeepers of sexually assaulting him testified in a closed Uruguayan civilian court on Thursday. According to the victim, Johnny Jean, the six marines who were serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped him on a UN base in Port Salut last September.
The peacekeepers involved, including one who recorded the incident with his cell phone, were recalled to Uruguay and imprisoned shortly after the case began making headlines. A preliminary investigation conducted by the UN and the Uruguayan Navy concluded that the peacekeepers had acted indecently but had not raped the Haitian man. As a result, the peacekeepers were released in late 2011, pending the outcome of the current investigation. According to Uruguayan Supreme Court spokesman Raul Oxandabarat, next steps in the case will depend on how Judge Alejandro Guido received Mr. Jean’s testimony
Tensions between UN peacekeepers and the local Haitian population have run high since Nepalese peacekeepers were found to be the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak. Less than two years later, the disease has spread across the country and spilled into the Dominican Republic, killing over 7,000 Haitians and infecting 530,000 more—roughly 5 percent of the total population. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control report published last week shows that the cholera strain is evolving to circumvent immunity, igniting fears of a potential second wave of the epidemic.
Despite rising antagonism toward the UN presence in Haiti—and the potential for violence if the accused Uruguayans are found not guilty—newly confirmed Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe ruled out the possibility of a hasty removal of UN troops. "Once we increase our security forces, the number of MINUSTAH troops will gradually fall," Lamothe said.
The United Nations announced yesterday that it is investigating two cases of sexual exploitation of children allegedly committed by UN police personnel in Haiti. One case involves the UN Police (UNPOL) in Port-au-Prince, while the other implicates one or more members of the Formed Police Unit (FPU) in the northern city of Gonaives.
UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) alerted UN headquarters of the allegations last week. “The United Nations is outraged by these allegations and takes its responsibility to deal with them extremely seriously,” said Nesirky in a statement. The UN has not disclosed the nationalities of the police officers in question, but confirmed that they have been removed from duty while under investigation.
Since peacekeepers first arrived in Haiti 2004 to restore order following the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN has had a sometimes tense relationship with the local population. Last September, five Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of sexually abusing a Haitian man at a UN base, while recording the incident on a cellphone. Four months earlier, an independent UN panel concluded that the Cholera epidemic that infected 344,000 Haitians and killed over 6,000 likely originated from poor sanitation by Nepalese peacekeepers stationed in Mirebalais. Both incidents resulted in protests and clashes between protesters and UN and Haitian police.
In an effort to ebb anti-UN sentiment in Haiti, the Security Council decided last October to withdraw 3,000 troops from the Caribbean nation, returning the force to pre-earthquake levels. Still, President Michel Martelly maintains that UN troops are a necessary presence in Haiti until the country’s police force—or a new military—can ensure security.