Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Jeff Heinrich, "Canadian troops in Haiti accused of making death, rape threats," Vancouver Province, September 02, 2006.

MONTREAL -- Canadian troops and police with the United Nations in Haiti made death threats during house raids and made sexual threats against women while drunk and off-duty, according to Haitians interviewed as part of a meticulous human-rights survey by U.S. researchers in December 2005 published this week in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The study, which estimated that 8,000 Haitians have been murdered and 35,000 women and girls raped since the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004, did not mention Canadians specifically, blaming only Brazilian and Jordanian troops for making threats.

But in an interview Friday, the study's lead author said Haitians interviewed for the peer-reviewed survey did pinpoint Canadians as among those UN personnel who threatened them physically or sexually over the 22 months studied.

"Canadians were definitely blamed for death threats and threats of physical and sexual violence," said Athena Kolbe, 30, an expert on Haiti who speaks Creole. She has visited Haiti often and is doing her master's degree at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, in Detroit.

One family was interviewed at their home in Delmas, an eastern suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

"Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking for (pro-Aristide) Lavalas chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household, who was the father, if he didn't name names of people in their neighbourhood who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters," Kolbe said by phone from San Francisco. (Chimeres is a Creole word meaning ``spooks'' and refers to armed groups funded by the pro-Aristide Lavalas movement.)

"And he refused to, because, as he told us, he didn't know anyone."

How did he recognize the soldiers were Canadians?

"From the flag on the uniform," Kolbe said.

How did he remember the incident so precisely?

"Because the family was traumatized by it."

That incident was alleged to have taken place around the time of Aristide's departure in February 2004.

In another incident, "one woman said a Canadian soldier tried to have sex with her, that this soldier was drunk and she didn't want to, and that he was threatening her and grabbing at her when she didn't want to," Kolbe said.

The woman was out with her friends near a Canadian base, on a street where drunk and off-duty Canadian soldiers in uniform tried to pick up local women.

"She tried to tell him she wasn't interested, but he spoke French and she spoke Creole, so she didn't think that he really got it, and he wouldn't stop holding on to her."

Of the women in the study who complained of sexual threats, drunk and off-duty Canadian and American soldiers were most often blamed as the perpetrators, Kolbe said. "But regarding Brazilian and Jordanian troops, a lot of the sexual threats were actually when they were on patrol."

Canada sent 450 soldiers and other personnel along with six CH-146 Griffon helicopters to Haiti in March 2004 as part of a UN peacekeeping force of 6,700 military personnel and 1,600 police. The Canadian soldiers left in August of that year, but Canada still has 66 police officers in Haiti leading the UN's police force.

Overall, the survey of 5,720 randomly selected Haitians living in and around the capital found that 97 had received death threats, 232 had been threatened physically and 86 sexually. One-third of the perpetrators were criminals, about 20 per cent were Haitian National Police and other government security agents, and another 20 per cent were foreign soldiers.

Most soldiers were identified by the flag of their country displayed on their blue UN helmet or on their uniform sleeve over the upper arm. Other UN personnel, especially those on patrol with the Canadian-led CIVPOL police force or working in other units doing crowd control or training were harder to identify by country; they had blue helmets but no flags.

The allegations of misconduct indicate that UN troops in Haiti need to be reined in, Kolbe said.

"These instances are pretty much indicative of soldiers not having proper supervision or training."

Canadians would likely have been more frequently cited if the study hadn't been restricted to the greater Port-au-Prince area, where Canadian troops patrol less than elsewhere in Haiti, Kolbe added.

Told of the allegations after Kolbe related them late Friday afternoon, a spokesman for the Department of National Defence said they sounded specific and serious but needed verification before any comment could be made.

"Is there any way that you could give us time to comment?" said Lieut. Adam Thomson, asking publication of the allegations be delayed until after the Labour Day weekend.

Also in Ottawa Friday, Rejean Beaulieu, the Foreign Affairs Department spokesman for Haiti, refused comment, offering instead only an off-the-record, not-for attribution "deep background briefing" on Canada's role in Haiti.

Earlier, Beaulieu referred questions to the the UN, which he said "should be in a better position to answer since our people in Haiti were and are working under this umbrella."

In Montreal, a spokesman for Premier Jean Charest _ who visited Haiti in June 2005 and received its controversial prime minister Gerard Latortue at his Montreal office last March _ also declined comment.

"The type of relationship we have with Haiti is through humanitarian projects" _ in education, in civil service training and such, not peacekeeping or policing, which is Ottawa's jurisdiction, said Hugo d'Amours.

Ridiculous, retorted Marie-Dominik Langlois, co-ordinator of the Christian Committee for Human Rights in Latin America, a Montreal advocacy group founded in 1976 that promotes human rights in the region, including Haiti and other Caribbean countries.

"There are lots of humanitarian projects in Haiti that only serve to legitimize so-called community leaders" who had a role in the undemocratic removal of Aristide, and Quebec is involved with them, she said.

But one Montreal Haitian community group took an opposite view.

"Impunity (from justice) reigns like a king in Haiti, but in my opinion, things would be even worse without the UN presence," said Marjorie Villefranche, director of programs at the Maison d'Haiti, a community centre founded in 1972 that serves some of the 70,000 Haitians here.

"The security situation has been getting worse in the last two years, and it's deplorable," she added. "There has been an acceleration of violence. But it's an acceleration caused by armed groups, not foreign soldiers. The real mistake was that the UN didn't disarm everyone when they arrived."

Montreal Gazette
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