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UN Peacekeepers: How a Haiti child sex ring was whitewashed

Friday, May 26, 2017

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The general sat on a plastic lawn chair in the garden of his mother's home, the scent of tropical blooms filling the air as he talked about the alleged rape and sodomy of a Haitian teenager by a Sri Lankan peacekeeper.There was no rape, insisted Major General Jagath Dias, who was dispatched to Haiti to investigate the 2013 case. He may not have been the best choice for that job — Dias had been accused of atrocities in his own country's vicious civil war.

Dias didn't talk to the accuser, he told The Associated Press, nor did he interview medical staff who examined her. But he did clear his soldier, who remained in the Sri Lankan military.

It wasn't the first time that Sri Lankan soldiers were accused of sexual abuse: In 2007, a group of Haitian children identified 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers in a child sex ring that went on for three years, the AP reported in April.

In that case, the Sri Lankan military repatriated 114 of the peacekeepers, but none was ever jailed.

In fact, Sri Lanka has never prosecuted a single soldier for sexual assault or sexual misconduct while serving in a peacekeeping mission abroad, the AP found.

The alleged abuses committed by its troops abroad stem from a culture of impunity that arose during Sri Lanka's civil war and has seeped into its peacekeeping missions. The government has consistently refused calls for independent investigations into its generation-long civil war, marked by widespread reports of rape camps, torture, mass killings and other alleged war crimes by its troops.

The UN has deployed thousands of peacekeepers from Sri Lanka despite these unresolved allegations of war crimes at home. This is a pattern repeated around the world: Strapped for troops, the UN draws recruits from many countries with poor human rights records for its peacekeeping program, budgeted at nearly $8 billion this year.

An AP investigation last month found that in the last 12 years up to March, an estimated 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse or exploitation have been levelled at UN peacekeepers and personnel. That tally could change as UN officials update their records and reconcile data from old files.

Congolese troops also have been accused of war crimes during their own longstanding war. As peacekeepers in Central African Republic, at least 17 have been accused of sexual abuse and exploitation. The situation in Congo, meanwhile, is so complex the country is hosting a UN peacekeeping mission to manage its own violent conflict while also sending personnel on peacekeeping missions to other countries.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan understands the predicament. When fighting gripped Rwanda, he struggled to find peacekeepers to help stem what would later become a mass slaughter that killed an estimated 800,000 people.

"Sometimes the UN needs troops," Annan told the AP earlier this month. "And they are so desperate that they accept troops that they will normally not accept if they had the choice."

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