News24

Haiti sex assault case starts in Uruguay

2012-05-11 10:01

Montevideo - A young Haitian man who accused Uruguayan troops serving as UN peacekeepers in Haiti of sexually assaulting him last year on Thursday testified in Montevideo before a judge investigating the case.

The scandal erupted in September 2011 after cell phone video images circulated on the internet showing the UN peacekeepers sexually assaulting the man, then 18-years-old, in the southern Haitian town of Port-Salut.

Six Uruguayan marines were indicted last year on charges of disobeying orders and dereliction of duty. The first charge is punishable by four months to four years of prison, and the second by up to three years in prison.

The alleged victim Jhony Jean gave his deposition to Alejandro Guido, the judge overseeing the investigation. Jean was accompanied by two US attorneys, his mother and a Haitian government representative.

He also came with a translator, as he only speaks Creole.

"The entire investigation is based on a very brief, fragmented film of poor quality filmed on a cell phone and the testimony of this young Haitian," said Raul Oxandarabat, spokesperson for Uruguay's supreme court.

Jean's attorneys said they had proof that the assault took place.

Calls for withdrawal

"What they did to this young man is absolutely horrible.... What I saw in that video turned my stomach," said one of the lawyers, Edwin Marger. "They deny it, I don't know how they can."

"Jhony was examined by doctors. They said he had been assaulted, and that evidence will be presented in this case," Marger said, adding that some evidence had been given to the investigating judge.

"This is not about money, but about justice," he said.

The scandal has prompted protests outside the Uruguayan base at Port-Salut to demand the withdrawal of the UN forces.

Uruguay's defence minister had earlier admitted that the incident had caused "a lot of damage" to the armed forces, which provide around 2 400 peacekeepers worldwide, mostly in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deployed since June 2004 under Brazilian leadership, the United Nations Mission for the Stabilisation of Haiti has troops from 18 countries, but most are from Latin America.

After the January 2010 earthquake, the force grew from around 9 000 troops to 12 250 but UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the time has come to begin a gradual drawdown.