- Ansel Herzan independent journalist based in Haiti since 2009. He has written for The Nation, Inter Press News, Haïti Liberté and other outlets. He broke the story of the U.N. abuse caught on a cell phone video last Friday with ABC News.
The commander of the Uruguayan Navy’s United Nations mission in Haiti has been dismissed after the circulation of a video that allegedly shows Uruguayan peacekeepers sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man. Haitian President Michel Martelly condemned the alleged abuse yesterday and said the victim had been subjected to “collective rape.” The attack occurred in July, but graphic cell phone video of the alleged attack only surfaced in recent days. This latest episode follows others by U.N. forces. In December 2007, 100 Sri Lankan soldiers were deported from Haiti following charges of sexual abuse of under-age girls. In 2005, U.N. troops went on the rampage in Cité Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince, killing as many as 23 people, including children. Yesterday, there were demonstrations in Port Salut, the seaside town in Haiti where the incident is alleged to have occurred. We go to Port Salut to speak with journalist Ansel Herz, who broke the story. “Some people want MINUSTAH, the entire force in the country—it’s now about 12,000 soldiers—to simply leave,” says Herz. “Others are asking that they transform their mission from one of military so-called 'peacekeeping' into development—building roads, building schools, helping create the infrastructure that Haiti needs to get back up on its feet after the earthquake.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The commander of the Uruguayan Navy’s United Nations mission in Haiti has been dismissed after the circulation of a video that allegedly shows Uruguayan peacekeepers sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man. Haitian President Michel Martelly yesterday condemned the alleged abuse and said the victim had been subjected to, quote, “collective rape.”
The attack occurred in July, but graphic cell phone video of the alleged attack only surfaced in recent days. The video appears to show four U.N. troops in camouflage attacking the young man, named Johnny Jean.
The video continues showing the men laughing and standing over Jean while he lies face down on a mattress, his trousers pulled down. Several men are shown restraining his arms and hands. The uniformed men speak Spanish, but it’s inaudible. The Uruguayan Defense Ministry said yesterday it had begun a “repatriation of the troops involved” in the attack.
This latest episode follows others by U.N. forces. In December 2007, 100 Sri Lankan soldiers were deported from Haiti following charges of sexual abuse of under-age girls. In 2005, U.N. troops went on the rampage in Cité Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Port-au-Prince, killing as many as 23 people, including children.
Yesterday there were demonstrations in Port Salut, the seaside town in Haiti where the attack is alleged to have occurred. Independent reporter Ansel Herz spoke to resident Katia Daniel at the protest.
KATIA DANIEL: We are here in support of Johnny Jean, because of what happened to him. It could happen to my brother. It could happen to my sister. It could happen to anybody. So, that has to stop. It’s not the first time that happened here in Port Salut. It has to stop. It cannot be—that cannot be continuing in the country. Those people are here [inaudible] peacekeeper, but they are not peacekeeper here. [inaudible] for the rest of the world to see what those people are doing to the poor country of Haiti. When they come to Haiti, that’s what they are doing. They are not helping us. They’re not coming here for help. They’re coming here for abuse. We don’t want them here. We don’t want them here. They have to leave. They have to leave. And we need justice, justice for Johnny Jean and the others.
AMY GOODMAN: Katia Daniel was speaking with Ansel Herz. He’s an independent journalist who has lived in Haiti for two years. He’s joining us now from Port Salut in Haiti. He broke this story of the cell phone videotape.
Ansel, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what has unfolded, how you got this videotape, and what has happened since.
ANSEL HERZ: What happened is, in late July—it’s not totally clear exactly what date it occurred—Johnny Jean was assaulted in some form inside the base. That’s what the cell phone video appears to show. And what I’ve understood is that one of the soldiers who was present in that room was, you know, making a video of this on his cell phone. He then, you know, came outside of the base one day about a week later, and two young Haitian men were walking by the base. They were playing some music on their cell phone. And the soldier said, “Hey, I like that music. I’d like it on my phone.” And so he came over, and he gave the two Haitian men his phone. These guys were then looking through his phone to see kind of if he had any good music on his phone, this soldier. They saw this video on this soldier’s cell phone, and one of the young men recognized his own cousin, Johnny Jean, in that video and was shocked. He transferred that video, using Bluetooth, over to his friend’s phone. And, you know, at that point, the video had gotten out.
And so, those boys later gave that video to a local journalist and activist. They were later also in a meeting, they told me, with MINUSTAH officials. MINUSTAH is the acronym for the U.N. peacekeeping mission here. And, you know, they told me that the MINUSTAH official who was there denied that this had happened. And then they showed him the video, and he broke out sort of sweating. He was shocked at what he was seeing. So that’s how the video came out.
I arrived here in Port Salut on Wednesday for the first time. And when I arrived, the family of Johnny Jean was making a criminal complaint at the courthouse about this incident. You know, time had passed, and Johnny Jean had not spoken out about this. I think that he was afraid. His mom said that he stayed in the house for two weeks after it first happened, and she didn’t know what was going on. And then somebody was walking by her house and asked her, “Hey, do you know that MINUSTAH soldiers raped your son?” And she was, of course, shocked, and she questioned him. And then they decided to go forward with this criminal compl—sorry, criminal complaint. And they gave me a copy of the video last Wednesday.
AMY GOODMAN: It has led to the dismissal of the head of the Uruguayan Navy U.N. mission in Haiti. And explain just what MINUSTAH stands for, for people who aren’t familiar with the U.N. forces in Haiti.
ANSEL HERZ: Yeah, MINUSTAH stands for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. It came into the country after a 2004 U.S.-backed coup d’état drove President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of Haiti. You know, MINUSTAH was kind of used in tandem with a police force under the interim government that followed to, I think, repress demonstrations by Lavalas supporters, Fanmi Lavalas, the party of Aristide. And since then, you know, they’ve kind of had ups and downs, I think, in their relationship with Haitians at large.
And over the past year, it’s been heading in a downward direction, the sort of the state of tension between the population and the peacekeepers, especially in light of how these peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti. That’s been documented now by several scientific studies. Nepali peacekeepers in central Haiti somehow brought the disease with them, which is endemic in Nepal, and introduced it through sort of negligent waste disposal into the water system in central Haiti in last October. Cholera has since killed over 6,000 Haitians. It’s still an epidemic in the country. There were riots last October, you know, against the U.N. for that. And now we have this latest incident showing what appears to be a sexual assault or an assault of a young man, and he’s being pinned down, and that video is now circulating widely in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, the protests that have taken place through the weekend, Ansel, you were there covering them. You spoke to, among others, Katia. What are people demanding right now?
ANSEL HERZ: There’s a range of demands. Some people want MINUSTAH, the entire force in the country—it’s now about 12,000 soldiers—to simply leave. And that’s a demand I’ve heard elsewhere in Haiti, as well; it’s not just here in Port Salut, you know, whether it’s Cité Soleil, where—which is a very heavily policed slum in Port-au-Prince, whether it’s Cap-Haïtien, the northern city where a young man was hung inside a U.N. base last year, a 17-year-old, and there was never a clear investigation into what happened. The U.N. claimed that he committed suicide. People here in Port Salut, the opposite end of the country, have spoken about that to me. You know, that’s in their memory. They know that there are these cases where things have not been investigated. And so, you know, some people believe that they need to get out of the country right now.
Others are asking that they transform their mission from one of military so-called peacekeeping into development—you know, building roads, building schools, helping create the infrastructure that Haiti needs to get back up on its feet after the earthquake, which happened January 12th, 2010.
You know, other people here in Port Salut are more angry with specific problems that they’re having with the U.N., whether that’s a pool of dirty water that has amassed right next to the sea, right alongside some homes. It’s down the road, basically, from another Uruguayan U.N. base here in Port Salut. I watched this water actually flow out at night, as the residents told me that it did. And I think you have video of that. You know, this dirty water, it smells terrible, and it comes out of the base. You can see the canal or the pipes that connect the base that come down to this beach area, and then it just pools up in this, you know, foul-looking pool. And so, the residents there say that this pool attracts mosquitoes. You know, it’s subjecting them to the risk of malaria contraction. One man showed me his young girl, who seemed to have lots of mosquito bites on her arm. So they’re really upset about that. They’ve said they’ve asked MINUSTAH to take care of this, and MINUSTAH hasn’t.
You know, there are other allegations made by the deputy here in Port Salut that women are engaging in food for sex, although that’s unproven. I don’t—I haven’t been able to, you know, find evidence of that.
And there’s actually a fourth thing now, which I can tell you. There’s a 17-year-old woman here in Port Salut who has had a child by the U.N. soldiers. Her name is Rosemina Joseph phon.. She’s 17. And she showed me photos of the Uruguayan soldier. His name is Julio. She has a photo, you know, with him attending her birthday party. She’s nine months pregnant, and she’s about to give birth this month, she believes September 20th, with his child. She doesn’t feel like he’s supporting her the way he should. She doesn’t know if she has the money to pay for what—the services she’ll need when she gives birth. So, she’s a minor. And I want to emphasize that that—according to her, this was consensual. But she is a minor, and that obviously goes against the regulations that the U.N. peacekeepers have. And we’ll be writing a story about this shortly.
And she’s not the only one who’s engaged in sexual relations with the U.N. peacekeepers here. There are two other women that I’ve met now. One is named Narlande Azar phon. She’s 22. And another is named Odette. These are very poor women. They don’t really have steady work. And these other two women, Narlande and Odette, both have had children. One of them is a toddler, six months old, and the other is a little bit older, two years old. And they’re light-skinned. You can see that they have hair which, you know, comes from a light-skinned person. So there are a range of complaints here in Port Salut against the U.N. peacekeepers.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ansel Herz, an independent journalist based in Haiti since 2009. He has broken the story of the cell phone video capturing what is alleged to be U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay sexually assaulting an 18-year-old teenager, a young man, in Port Salut, where Ansel Herz is speaking from now. Can you talk about the appointment of the new Haitian prime minister and who exactly he is, Ansel?
ANSEL HERZ: Sure. Garry Conille, to my understanding, is a man, a Haitian man, who has lived in the United States, mainly, for the past five years, if not more. On his Facebook page, it says that his residence is in New York. But he is Haitian. He was born here. And he’s been a very close aide to Bill Clinton at the Office of the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti over the past couple years. Every time I’ve seen Clinton here in Haiti, this man has been at his side and translating, usually, for him. I don’t know really much about his background beyond that, other than I think he’s understood as a technocrat and somebody who’s well studied. But this question of his residency, I think, is going to come up, because there is a requirement in the, you know, Haitian constitution that these prime ministers must have lived in Haiti for the past five years. That’s my understanding. So we’ll see whether he’s approved by parliament.
The previous two nominees that Michel Martelly, the new president, put forward were both, I think, controversial and far on the right wing of the political spectrum here in Haiti. One was a former minister under the interim government that took power after Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he oversaw some of these human rights abuses which are alleged to have taken place against Lavalas supporters [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: So, Garry Conille, the former chief of staff of President Bill Clinton—
ANSEL HERZ: And so, both of those nominees were [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: —the U.N. special envoy for Haiti. He was his chief of staff while he was special U.N. envoy, now named by Michel Martelly—
ANSEL HERZ: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: —the president of Haiti, to be his prime minister.
Finally, we’re also getting word that a number—five or six—Oxfam members, including the head of Oxfam in Haiti, have also been withdrawn over issues of—what exactly were the words—bullying and misbehavior. Can you talk about these transgressions? Resigned after an internal investigation found six members of the staff—this is Oxfam’s country director in Haiti—were found guilty of misconduct. The charity would not give specific details of the transgressions for legal reasons, but said the staff were guilty of breach of behavioral code of conduct, bringing disrepute, abuse of power and bullying. Can you talk about what happened there?
ANSEL HERZ: I don’t know the details in that case. Oxfam, it seems, has sort of taken the lead on its own to take care of these staff members that have allegedly, you know, engaged in some kind of abuses. They haven’t made the details of that public to anybody.
But I will just say that I think that reflects the need for scrutiny on these NGOs, these international non-governmental organizations, of which there are thousands, hundreds, you know, and thousands that are working in Port-au-Prince as well as in areas around the country. Haiti is often called “the republic of NGOs.” And, you know, these NGOs have received millions, if not billions, of dollars since the earthquake to provide relief to the quake victims. And unfortunately, if you’re in Port-au-Prince, you’ll see rubble everywhere. You’ll see people, over 600,000 of them, still living in camps, in absolutely appalling conditions. Many of them don’t have proper toilets. Many of them don’t have water being distributed to them. And they’re constantly, you know, complaining that these NGOs don’t listen to them, the NGOs simply do what they want, nobody has control of them. And so, you know, I think some NGOs do good work—Doctors Without Borders and perhaps Oxfam, as well—but I think there is a need, in the press and just in a regulatory framework, for people to be looking very closely at what happened with the money that was donated for the earthquake victims and how the NGOs, whether it’s Oxfam or any of the others, are using it.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ansel, you broke the story with Haïti Liberté and The Nation around the WikiLeaks documents relating to keeping President Aristide out of the country. Can you just summarize for us what came out in these State Department cables that were released?
ANSEL HERZ: Sure. I think the whole episode really is captured best, actually, in a cable that describes the Dominican president, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, giving a speech in which he called for the return of Aristide to Haiti. He said that, you know, Aristide would have to be part of the political process in Haiti going forward. I believe that was in 2005, about a year after Aristide was flown out of the country on a U.S. jet. And there’s a cable in this WikiLeaks cache that describes how the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic was outraged, and he just couldn’t believe basically that Fernández had even, you know, raised this idea in a speech. And so, he pulled aside the president of the Dominican Republic at a social event—those are the words of the cable—and admonished him and told him kind of angrily that Aristide was a drug dealer and that he had overseen, you know, crimes against humanity, this kind of thing. And Fernández replied very curtly, “Nobody has given me any information about that.”
And I think that just, you know, is emblematic of the kind of bullying that the United States has engaged in when it comes to Haitian politics, and specifically the party of Fanmi Lavalas, the party of Aristide, which was barred from running in this last election. You know, they haven’t been allowed to participate in the political process. And Aristide was finally able to return to Haiti last March. The U.S. again attempted to keep him out of the country. The cables show that that campaign was going back years. They were sort of working with the Canadians and the French to speculate on how they could physically block Aristide from coming back in years past. And I don’t understand why the United States thinks it has the right to prevent a constitutionally elected president from being in his own country.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s right, Democracy Now! covered President Aristide on his plane from South Africa, with his wife Mildred Aristide and their two daughters, home to Haiti after seven-and-a-half years in exile. And earlier that week, President Obama had called the South African president, Zuma, to once again pressure him to not allow the Aristides to leave the country to head to Haiti. Ansel Herz, I want to thank you very much for being with us and your excellent reporting. Ansel Herz is an independent journalist based in Haiti for the last two years, has written for The Nation, Inter Press News, Haïti Liberté, and reported for Democracy Now!, as well. He has just broken this story on U.N. abuse caught on cell phone video.