January 24, 2020 — A new report from Redress and Child Rights International (CRIN) , “Litigating Peacekeeper Child Sexual Abuse,” finds that courts have provided little hope for those seeking justice for child victims of peacekeeper sexual abuse. The report analyzes a longstanding and well-known issue in the human rights world: peacekeepers meant to instill stability and security in regions where they are deployed have also engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse. Beatrice Lindstrom, Clinical Instructor in the International Human Rights Clinic and Supervising Attorney for HLS Advocates for Human Rights, was one of more than 30 experts interviewed for the report. In her interview with the authors, Lindstrom and her former colleague, Sienna Merope-Synge, explained the particular devastation wrought by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti from 2004-2017.
As Redress’s press release states: “Almost 2,000 allegations [of sexual abuse], including 300 complaints involving children, were reported between 2004 and 2016.” These cases occurred in Haiti, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places. Redress adds, “Troop-contributing countries have shown themselves largely unable or unwilling to prevent abuse, prosecute the perpetrators or provide redress to the victims. The UN’s role has also been criticised, prompting extensive internal reforms.”
Furthermore, “in each of the case studies examined in the report, suspected perpetrators were not convicted or were subjected to lesser sanctions than their crimes merited. In not one of the case studies did the victims receive the full reparations to which they were entitled. Not surprisingly, the lawyers and NGOs interviewed for the research reported that their clients did not feel they had obtained justice,” the press release notes.
The report goes on to explore some of the primary obstacles preventing accountability, such as poorly-executed investigations or immunity and problems of jurisdiction.
Formerly the Legal Director for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Lindstrom has worked on accountability of transnational actors, obligations of international organizations, and access to remedies in Haiti for over a decade. In that vein, she has focused on path-breaking advocacy to secure accountability from the UN for causing a devastating cholera epidemic in Haiti during the same peacekeeping mission. She was lead counsel in Georges v. United Nations, a class action lawsuit on behalf of those injured by cholera.
Explaining the importance of the analysis, Lindstrom said: “This report provides the first comprehensive view of global legal efforts to hold peacekeepers accountable. It gives new meaning to the word ‘impunity’ by revealing the range of barriers to justice that survivors face.”
Lindstrom hopes that the report will serve as a call to action for the UN, policymakers, and civil society that has sought to address the problem. “So far, proposed solutions have tinkered at the edges, but what is needed is a systemic overhaul that recognizes victims’ rights to access justice for these crimes.”
Last month, Sabine Lee, Professor in Modern History at the University of Birmingham and Susan Bartels, Clinician-Scientist at Queen’s University, Ontario, published a devastating account of the toll UN peacekeepers left behind after their 13-year stay in Haiti. Drawing on interviews with 2500 Haitians, the investigation documented hundreds of fatherless children, mothers left in poverty, and sexual abuse of children.
The New York Times Editorial Board followed up with an op-ed, “The UN’s Tainted Legacy in Haiti,” which condemned the UN peacekeeper mission for the horror caused by the cholera epidemic and the discoveries unearthed by Lee and Bartels’ work. “The blue helmet of a United Nations peacekeeper represents a unique commitment by the world to assist the weakest and poorest when they are most helpless,” the New York Times wrote. “For soldiers to take advantage of that trust is revolting.”
In 2016, the UN finally admitted to its role in spreading the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The organization, as of yet, has not apologized or proposed any remedy for the pattern of sexual abuse and exploitation peacekeepers likewise caused while supposedly providing support to the country.