Peacekeeping: Fiction vs. Reality

(Image: Protest in Haiti against UN sexual crimes against women. Source)

The word peacekeeping is like the word terrorism: it is meaningless on its own and able to be molded to serve the interests of a political clique. Like Alex P. Schmidt’s description of terrorism in The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research, peacekeeping “is usually an instrument for the attempted realization of a political…project that perpetrators lacking mass support are seeking”[1].

Peacekeepers have never kept the peace in any conflict. On the contrary, peacekeepers themselves have been linked to an increase in violence and human rights abuses, particularly of a sexual nature. In Bosnia, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, peacekeepers have been “associated with criminal misconduct, including sexual violence. Crimes against women and children have followed UN peacekeeping operations in several locations, and the UN reported that the entrance of peacekeeping troops into a conflict situation has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution”[2]. Allegations of sexual violence against peacekeepers dates back to the 1990s. During the 1995-2002 UN mission in Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, a human rights investigator, found that young “girls from Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and other Eastern European countries [were] being brought in to service the UN and military bases as sex-slaves. The cases involved the officers from many foreign countries, including the USA, Pakistan, Germany, Romania, Ukraine, government contractors, and local organized criminals”[3]. Bolkovac was subsequently fired for her investigation. As of 2015 more than 200 women and girls have been sexually exploited by UN peacekeepers in Haiti in exchange for food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities [4]. In the Central African Republic, French peacekeepers have forced young girls to have sex with dogs [5], starving and homeless boys as young as nine have been sodomized by peacekeepers [6], and an entire UN contingent was expelled from the country due to sex crimes [7].

Extrajudicial murder, torture, and mass murder – all war crimes under international law – have also been committed by peacekeepers. A 14-year-old Somali boy was beaten, tortured, and murdered by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia; the peacekeepers having posed in photos with the boy’s bloody corpse. Not to be outdone, Belgian peacekeepers were photographed roasting a Somali over a fire. (more…)

Haitian Workers not Sharing in Economic Growth

From Solidarity Centre

Up to 70 percent of the Haitian workforce lacks formal jobs—but the notion that “any job is better than no job” is not a goal that should be embraced, says Lauren Stewart, Solidarity Center program officer for Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

“I visited a factory park in Port-au-Prince, and one of the workers showed me his pay stub, which had deductions for lunch that he had to buy on credit from his employer since he couldn’t afford to eat,” Stewart says. “By the time he received his paycheck, almost half of it went toward paying back lunch.

“This is the current state of garment workers, who some consider to be the lucky few because they have formal jobs. But in reality, these workers are only earning enough to fend off starvation by the day,” she added.

Stewart spoke Friday at the panel discussion, “Economic Growth: Jobs or Sustainable Livelihoods?” part of a two-day event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG), the discussions highlighted the ongoing need for aid accountability and equitable development in post-earthquake Haiti.

The panel also included Nixon Boumba, the in-country consultant to American Jewish World Service, and Kysseline Chérestal, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA.

All three co-panelists pointed out how despite investment in the country’s garment sector, working Haitians are not sharing in the economic prosperity.

Chérestal highlighted a January ActionAid report that found more than $170 million of U.S. emergency aid money to Haiti went to finance the Caracol Industrial Park, which was built on prime agricultural land in northern Haiti, far outside the disaster zone. More than 366 families and 720 agricultural workers lost their land to Caracol. Of the 65,000 jobs promised, only 5,000 have been created.

The garment industry, Haiti’s largest source of formal jobs, employs some 35,000 workers who are paid a minimum wage of between $5 and $7 per day. A Solidarity Center report last year found that the cost of living is three to four times higher than the minimum wage, and workers spend more than a third of their wages on transportation and lunch to sustain their labor throughout the day. The remaining wages are not sufficient to adequately feed their families, let alone cover basic costs like housing, healthcare, education for their children and clothing.

In addition to low wages, the garment industry is rife with labor rights abuses, including forced overtime work, health and safety abuses, sexual harassment, and retaliation from employers for union organizing.

For workers to benefit, “they must have safe and dignified jobs, in which they can freely exercise their rights and earn enough to support themselves and their families,” says Stewart.

The Solidarity Center is a member of HAWG, a working group of international development, faith-based, human rights and social justice organizations advocating on issues related to U.S.-Haiti policy.