International Policy/United Nations

Female Bangladeshi Forces Carry Hope to Haiti

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A female U.N. police force from Bangladesh is bringing hope of better protection to Haitian women in makeshift camps for those displaced by the earthquake. Women's activists in one camp say it's not enough. They need help urgently.

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A Haitian woman and her baby stand outside their tent at an internally displaced person camp in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti.UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--Marie Eramithe Delva's 17-year-old daughter narrowly escaped a rape attempt in one of Haiti's largest internally displaced persons camps at the beginning of March. The 42-year-old mother and grassroots activist tried to report the assault and the attacker's subsequent threats.

A police officer just laughed and told her it was the problem of René Préval, president of the country that on Jan. 12 suffered an earthquake that killed approximately 230,000 people and left upwards of 1.3 million homeless.

"They did nothing," Delva told Women's eNews in a phone interview, assisted by a Creole translator from the camp Champ-de-Mars, in Port-au-Prince, home to roughly 50,000 people. "The only help we found came from members of the camp."

Today or tomorrow an all-female policing unit is journeying from Bangladesh to protect and serve as allies to Haitian women, said Gerardo Chaumont, police commissioner of the U.N.'s Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

Exactly how they will accomplish that, however, is hard to ascertain from official interviews.

The Haiti U.N. mission's police spokesperson Fred Blaise said the new female policing unit will be stationed at the U.N. headquarters in Delta Camp, in Tabarre, just north of Port-au-Prince. The policewomen will work on a rotating basis inside the U.N.'s approximately 700 makeshift camps for internally displaced persons, where they will be responsible for crowd control, disturbances and other regular duties, just as their male counterparts, he said in an e-mail interview.

That doesn't necessarily mean immediate or direct help for Delva, a co-coordinator of KOFAVIV, a Haitian grassroots female empowerment organization.

"What we need is security," Delva said. "Right now we have none and the rapes are happening not only at night, but in the daytime."

Tracking Sex Assault Victims

She and her partner, Malya Villard Appolon, 50, both say they will continue tracking victims of sex assault in Champ-de-Mars and other camps for displaced Haitian women and girls.

Delva and Villard live together with 18 extended family members, including their six and eight children, respectively, in one tent. They work daily to document reports of sexual violence in the crowded, poorly lit camps, which lack private bathing facilities. They then guide the women to medical clinics and police posts to report the crime, a vain effort they often find.

"Almost every day we are taking testimony of someone who has been raped," said Delva through translator Beverly Bell, an American social justice activist who has worked closely with the activist group for years. "Every day in the hospital we find someone who has been raped."

Chaumont denied that Haitian police are unwilling to aid civilians and report and follow up on cases of sexual assault.

"Many police also suffered the loss of families so at the beginning, following the earthquake, they were focused on saving their own relatives and helping themselves" the police commissioner told Women's eNews. "But that isn't the case anymore. Security is under control. We have police posts stationed, with women there, where you can go and report these crimes."

When pressed about Delva's case specifically, Chaumont said he has not heard of any such disregarded incidents, but that doesn't mean they don't exist, he conceded.

Relief and reconstruction efforts are underway, but sexual violence has worsened in the temporary housing camps, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha Rose-Migiro said in an April 15 press conference in response to a question from Women's eNews.

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