How a Haiti child sex ring was whitewashed
Colombo, Sri Lanka — When a Haitian teenager alleged that she had been raped and sodomized by a Sri Lankan peacekeeper, the government here dispatched a high-ranking general suspected of war crimes to lead the investigation.
He didn’t interview the accuser or medical staff who examined her, but he cleared the peacekeeper — who remained in the Sri Lankan military.
“A suspected war criminal is the wrong person to conduct an investigation into alleged crimes committed by a peacekeeper,” said Andreas Schuller of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based group that helped launch the complaint.
During the last months of the civil war that ended eight years ago, Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias led an army division whose troops were accused of attacking civilians and bombing a church, a hospital and other humanitarian outposts. Nevertheless, when a teenager said she was raped by a peacekeeper in Haiti, Dias was dispatched to investigate the 2013 case.
Dias described the barrage of allegations against Sri Lanka’s soldiers as unfair.
“If a soldier has raped a woman, he should be court-martialed, no doubt about it,” he said. “But where is the evidence? Allegations are just allegations.”
It wasn’t the first time that accusations against Sri Lankan peacekeepers were swept aside. In 2007, a group of orphaned Haitian children identified 134 Sri Lankans who gave them food for sex in a child sex ring that went on for three years, an Associated Press investigation found.
In that case, which was corroborated by U.N. investigators, 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 misconduct while serving in a peacekeeping mission abroad, the AP found.
A U.N. spokesman said last week that the screening process with Sri Lankan recruits was a work in progress.
In future deployments, Sri Lanka will provide U.N. officials with military records and personal information dating back to 2005 for all soldiers it plans to send on missions so they can be screened by the U.N., said Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Sri Lanka must also establish its own screening process for the soldiers and “pre-deployment training by U.N. standards and specifications including conduct of discipline on human rights and on sexual exploitation and abuse,” Haq said.
Strapped for troops, the U.N. draws recruits from many countries with poor human rights records for its peacekeeping program, budgeted at nearly $8 billion this year.
Many of today’s 110,000 or so peacekeepers come from unstable and violent countries. Congolese troops, for example, also have been accused of rape, torture and killings during the longstanding war in their country; as peacekeepers, they have faced allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation.
An AP investigation last month found that, in the past 12 years, an estimated 2,000 such allegations have been leveled at U.N. peacekeepers and personnel.