People walk in front of a UN base where peacekeepers allegedly sexually abused victims Port Salut, Haiti.
RABAT, Malta — As violators of human rights move to issue stronger guidelines for selective recourse and expect victims to comply, reports on past human rights violations offer invaluable testimony on the link between power and abuse. At the helm of various forms of abuse, including sexual violence, are U.S. military personnel and United Nations-affiliated personnel involved in peacekeeping operations.
Even in instances in which it’s not been directly involved in acts of sexual violence, the United States has certainly ensured the backing of dictatorships that have committed severe sex crimes. A prime example of this is Chile under the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.
Detention and torture centers such as Londres 38, Venda Sexy, Tejas Verdes and Villa Grimaldi are notorious for the acts of sexual depravity imposed upon detainees by Pinochet’s secret service. Rape and electrocution were regularly carried out by the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). But if it weren’t for the brave testimony of survivors, the world may have never known the full extent of the violence and degradation inflicted upon Pinochet’s prisoners.
Testimony gathered by Javier Rebolledo, a Chilean investigative reporter and author, who focused on sexual violations committed at Tejas Verdes, reveals a particularly macabre streak within DINA between 1973 and 1977. In addition to subjecting prisoners to multiple acts of rape and electrocution by applying electrical currents to sensitive body parts, agents also inserted mice or spiders into women’s vaginas.
While Rebolledo’s in-depth research can help readers develop a full understanding of the links between various forms of torture, the Valech Report, released in 2005, is a record of abuses committed under Pinochet’s regime from 1973 to 1990. The report includes shocking testimony of torture survivors, including those forcibly subjected to acts of sexual depravity.
Nieves Ayress, whose testimony of detention and torture in 1973 and 1974 is recorded by the Valech commission, explained that she was stripped naked by DINA agents and tortured in front of her father and brother during her detention at Londres 38. Upon being transferred to Tejas Verdes, she was sodomized, forced to perform oral sex upon DINA agents, and endured the degrading behavior of her captors urinating and defecating upon her body.
“They also placed rats in my vagina and then gave me electric shocks,” Ayress told the commission. “The rats desperately sank their claws into me internally.”
She was also a victim of the German shepherds that had been trained to sexually assault prisoners by Ingrid Olderock, a female DINA agent.
Olderock is the subject of an investigative book by Nancy Guzmán. Olderock was brought up in a strict, disciplined environment by her German Nazi-affiliated family, which, according to Guzmán, primed her for DINA recruitment in October 1973. Her role within DINA involved training dogs to sexually assault men, women and children — a crime that occurred repeatedly in the detention and torture center known as Venda Sexy.
Apart from her dog-training role and bestial, sadistic tendencies, Olderock was also a member of the Brigada Puren and the Brigada Lautaro — groups which handled the assassination and disappearances of Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) militants.
A history of American abuse, violence in Colombia
An 800-page report commissioned by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was released in February. Intended to contribute to an understanding of the history and victims of armed conflict in Colombia, the report establishes U.S. involvement in the sexual abuse of 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007.
U.S. officials suspected of sexual abuse named in the report benefited from immunity agreements between the U.S. and Colombia. Thus, the prosecution was not allowed to arrest the U.S. Army sergeant and contractor suspected of drugging and raping a 12-year-old girl at a military base in Melgar in 2007. Following the attack, the girl’s family was harassed by persons linked to U.S. officials to the point that they had to relocate.
Olga Lucia Castillo, the girl’s mother, has attempted to get justice for her daughter, but various obstacles are hindering her efforts, including the U.S. Congress’ position that details of the rape would be tantamount to pornography. Indeed, other cases which occurred during the same period studied in the recently released report include U.S. officials filming their sex crimes and selling the recordings. Since Congress refuses to hear the allegedly “pornographic” details, these crimes are essentially allowed to continue and these criminals allowed to go unpunished.
According to Renan Vega, a historian with the Pedagogic University of Bogota, as quoted in Colombia Reports, “There exists abundant information about the sexual violence, in absolute impunity thanks to the bilateral agreements and the diplomatic immunity of United States officials.”
Immunity for U.S. officials in Colombia dates back to 1974, and the practice was contested by Inspector General Edgardo Maya through a letter addressed to former President Alvaro Uribe in May 2005.
As the Christian Science Monitor explained, the U.S. maintains that “immunity from local prosecution is key in places like Colombia because politically motivated claims could be made against its troops, who are put into dangerous combat zones that other countries often shun.”
U.S. foreign policy, however, indicates otherwise. There is a universal correlation between humanitarian aid and human rights abuses, which was highlighted by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who determined in 2003 that Colombia met required criteria related to human rights “based on a thorough, careful evaluation of the conditions in U.S. law and the relevant actions and policies” of the Colombian government. The key term would be the privatization of state terror — an area in which both the U.S. and Colombia have excelled.
UN lacks punishment mechanism
At an international level, too, U.N. peacekeeping troops have been accused of sex crimes. In Kosovo, the Congo, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, U.N. peacekeeping troops and staff have been involved in acts of rape, pedophilia and the prostitution of children. A prostitution ring was created by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti in 2011. Some have attempted to cover-up child rape through meager monetary payments or gifts of candy.
Sex has been touted as a weapon of war in international rhetoric, applied almost exclusively to cases in which imperialist forces have set their sights on regime change. However, sexual abuse perpetrated by alleged peacekeepers also tends to be shrouded in impunity even when it’s acknowledged by the international body, as there is no mechanism for punishing crimes committed by U.N.-affiliated personnel.
While the U.N. claims that peacekeeping troops are investigated for sexual violation accusations, the U.N. lacks the ability to enforce punitive measures upon those culpable. The role of investigation therefore becomes the responsibility of the country providing the troops for peacekeeping missions abroad.
Immunity for U.N. personnel also shields violators from appropriate punishment. In fact, soldiers found guilty of crimes are often just repatriated.
Yet perhaps the greatest absurdity is the necessary reliance upon justice — a concept that has added to the humiliation of victims who, after suffering severe trauma, still must contend with the impunity granted to individuals who should be held accountable. Indeed, the U.S. and U.N. have ensured through various dynamics that victims are not allowed any remedy beyond recognition of the harm inflicted upon them.