UNITED NATIONS – UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations is launching a campaign to combat the rape of Haitian earthquake victims living in camps for the homeless, the U.N.'s top official in the country said Monday.
Edmund Mulet, who heads the U.N. stabilization mission in the country, told the 15-member Security Council that police and soldiers in the U.N.'s peacekeeping force are being trained how to handle rape and other sexual violence at the camps, and to ensure medical care for victims. He said a public relations campaign is under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rape and other sexual attacks.
"I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence," Mulet said, describing actions taken since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a report on Haiti last month.
Mulet said that a 200-member U.N. police force keeps a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, but that it's impossible to regularly patrol all the camps.
More than 1.3 million Haitians were displaced by the January quake, and many remain homeless, living in camps where women and children are vulnerable to attack.
Mulet also said that the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections must be "credible and legitimate" to ensure security in the still-fragile Caribbean nation.
"Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons' camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment," he said.
Sexual attacks at the camps have been a concern since shortly after the magnitude-7 temblor ravaged the Western Hemisphere's most impoverished and least developed country, and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.
The U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 soldiers and police deployed nationwide, is charged with maintaining stability and security in Haiti during reconstruction. The force has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid widespread unrest.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States remains concerned about vulnerable people in the camps and said that efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence "must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process."
Rice called the U.N.'s progress toward preparing security for the November elections "positive" and said "peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti's progress."
Britain's deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham also praised peacekeepers' efforts to ensure electoral security, and said it was critical that the Haitian National Police be involved.
The U.N. force "must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities" so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops "as the main providers of security" in the country.