(July 21, 2021 / JNS) Cubans have been out in the streets, protesting decades of oppression and poverty. They’ve been beaten and arrested for—as The New York Times phrased it—“Shouting ‘Freedom’ and other anti-government slogans.”
That’s not wrong if you understand that the protestors are not generally “anti-government.” Their opposition is specifically directed toward the socialist dictatorship that denies them basic human rights.
In theory, that should galvanize the United Nations Human Rights Council. In practice, as U.N. Watch’s Hillel Neuer has pointed out, the 47-nation UNHRC “has failed to take a single action: no resolution, no urgent session, no commission of inquiry.”
Might the United Nations have more pressing concerns? A short sail east from Cuba will take you to Haiti, whose president was assassinated on July 7, and which today has hardly any government which, it turns out, is conducive less to freedom than to anarchy.
Surely, the United Nations could play a useful role by deploying peacekeepers? Allow me to provide some not-so-well-known context that will make clear why that may be incorrect.
Haiti’s history is at once heroic and tragic. The only state ever established by a slave revolt, the second independent republic of the Americas, sovereign since 1804, Haiti has failed to achieve political stability and is today mired in abject poverty.
Early in the current century, tropical storms and hurricanes battered Haiti. That was followed, in 2010, by a devastating earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead and more than a million homeless.
A peacekeeping mission authorized by the U.N. Security Council six years earlier in response to internal armed conflicts was extended and boosted “to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country.”
The mission did not go well. A peacekeeping station released “black water,” cholera-infected waste, into a major river near Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and most populous city. As many as 10,000 Haitians are estimated to have died as a result, with more than a million sickened.
Not until 2016 did the United Nations acknowledge what it then referred to as “its own involvement” in the epidemic, and never did its various “relief and development” agencies do much to improve Haiti’s inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure.
Adding more than an insult to these injuries: A study by two academic researchers published in 2019 concluded that hundreds of girls “as young as 11 were sexually abused and impregnated by peacekeepers and then, as one man put it, ‘left in misery’ to raise their children alone, often because the fathers are repatriated once the pregnancy becomes known.”
The study continued: “A shocking number of uniformed and non-uniformed peacekeeping personnel have been linked to human rights abuses including sexual exploitation, rape, and even unlawful deaths.”
The U.N. mission ended in 2017, though a small contingent was left in place to “support Government efforts to strengthen rule-of-law institutions, further develop the Haitian National Police and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting, and analysis.” It achieved little.
I wish I could tell you that what Haiti has suffered at the hands of U.N. peacekeepers was an isolated failure among many successes. In fact, as extensively documented by the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer in 2016: “Over the years, numerous reports, audits, and investigations have revealed mismanagement, fraud, and procurement corruption in U.N. peacekeeping.”
Recognition that peacekeepers have been perpetrating “sexual exploitation and abuse,” or SEA, as it’s become known, traces back at least to 1993 during the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia, and there have been credible accusations of SEA since then in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, the Central Africa Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Sierra, Leone, Sudan, Kosovo and Bosnia.
U.N. officials have pledged reform but never actually managed it. Peter Gallo, a former investigator with the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), has explained: “The U.N. is manifestly unable to police itself because it is clear that the independence that OIOS once had has been compromised. OIOS has repeatedly been found to be factional, it is riddled with corruption and self-interest and is effectively controlled by the same senior management that it is supposed to investigate for wrongdoing.”
Are some U.N. peacekeepers at least accomplishing important missions? Schaefer concluded: “The unfortunate reality is that after billions of dollars in international assistance and decades of U.N. peacekeeping efforts, many long-standing peacekeeping operations have not demonstrably facilitated the resolution of the conflicts or situations that they were originally deployed to address.”
There’s more. My colleagues at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Bradley Bowman and Morgan Lorraine Vina last month published an essay detailing how China’s rulers are using “U.N. peacekeeping to cloak and facilitate the mercantilist extraction of natural resources from Africa while gaining valuable deployment experience for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and attempting to shift international norms in a direction hostile to human rights.”
By the way, who pays the largest share of the U.N. peacekeeping budget? You guessed it: the American taxpayer. The Biden administration recently requested roughly $2 billion for the fiscal year 2022.
Preventing America’s adversaries from further subverting peacekeeping missions and fixing everything else at the United Nations that’s dysfunctional should be a priority for the Biden administration. It’s not. Instead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week formally asked the United Nations to investigate “contemporary forms of racism” in America.
I’m reminded of an old Washington joke. A tourist is walking down C Street looking at the large buildings. He approaches a policeman: “Excuse me, Officer, which side is the State Department on?” The cop replies: “Well, they say they’re on our side but, really, who the hell knows?”
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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