Response: It's wrong to claim that the UN doesn't tackle sexual violence in Haiti

We are doing what we can to protect women and girls despite a lack of resources

Your international development supplement reports that "Haiti … is witnessing an 'epidemic' of rape in the [internally displaced persons] camps, with cases growing in number and brutality" (A search for sanctuary, 21 November).

The situation of women and girls in Port-au-Prince and in Haiti in general is truly precarious, especially for those living in camps. Cases of rape and sexual violence have increased inside the camps and outside, while protective measures are still in their infancy.

Unfortunately, gender-based violence is not just a consequence of post-earthquake displacement and insecurity, but was a fact of life for too many women in pre-earthquake Haiti, where a culture of exclusion and discrimination solely on the basis of gender is unfortunately well entrenched. Haitian and international partners on the ground are focusing on this scourge, but the task is huge and resources limited. Contrary to your report, however, there is not a complete absence of action.

The report examines the work of Kofaviv, a Haitian rape victims support organisation, and quotes Javier Zuniga of Amnesty International on the role of the United Nations: "The UN, which has a mandate for protection, does a small amount of patrolling around Port-au-Prince but they do very little monitoring of the camps. As for the protection of women, they are doing nothing at all."

The UN has taken many measures to provide protection for camp residents with a specific focus on combating sexual, gender-based violence. We have established, with the Haitian national police, permanent police stations in the seven largest camps, staffed 24 hours a day. A special unit within the UN police forces focuses exclusively on the camps and conducts joint patrols with the Haitian police – around 1,500 per week.

A mobile gender unit, with specially trained personnel, operates around the clock and responds immediately to any reports of sexual violence. The UN has also installed hundreds of solar lamps to improve night-time safety. Finally, the UN, the International Organisation for Migration and our partners work with camp committees and with courageous women to provide protected spaces for those who are abused or at risk. These measures are never enough, of course, but to cite a complete absence of such security measures is erroneous.

We agree that sexual violence remains a serious concern and that much more action is needed. Long term, sustainable solutions lie in the strengthening of the Haitian criminal justice system, state, social and medical services, education and women's financial and legal empowerment.

The UN in Haiti is contributing in all of these areas, training the police, pushing the justice system to deliver just outcomes in individual cases, supporting the transition of camp-dwellers back into their neighbourhoods and more. As for Kofaviv, the organisation receives funding from several UN bodies such as UNHCR and Minustah itself.


Mariano Fernández

The GuardianTramp

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