In what could be a precedent-setting case, a Haitian court has ordered a former UN peacekeeper to pay child support for a child he fathered while serving in Haiti, then left behind. This case could allow other women in the same situation around the world to sue for financial compensation for sexual encounters with UN peacekeepers that resulted in pregnancy.
A Haitian court released its decision this month to order a former UN peacekeeper from Uruguay to pay child support of roughly $4,400 per month. The single mother is one of hundreds of women impregnated by UN peacekeepers from Pakistan, Uruguay, Argentina, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and a handful of other countries while they were stationed in Haiti following a period of political unrest in 2004.
According to a 2017 report by Canada’s Queen’s University and the University of Birmingham in the U.K., girls as young as eleven were paid small amounts of cash or food, sometimes as paltry as a single cookie, for sex that left them pregnant, forced to raise children alone in situations of extreme poverty, political turmoil, rampant violence, illness, and natural disaster. Of the 2,500 people interviewed for the report in areas where the UN operated, ten percent knew a child fathered by UN peacekeepers.
The UN mission in Haiti, has been soiled by scandal for years amid reports of widespread sexual abuse of local women and girls, including a coercive child sex ring, a peacekeeper raid in a Port-au-Prince slum that left dozens of civilians with gunshot wounds, and the introduction of a cholera outbreak that killed ten thousand people. UN missions around the world have faced similar scrutiny for sexual abuse of local populations and pregnant women left behind, with documented epidemics of abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic as well as Haiti.
“There is a perception amongst the Haitian population that ‘MINUSTAH [the UN mission] is not there to help us’, but only to ‘steal our food, steal our goats and rape our children,’” Redress wrote in a 2019 report on litigation of peacekeeper sexual abuse.
The UN released a report in 2005 on sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a set of recommendations for change within the organization regarding support for victims, including financial and criminal accountability, but the hundreds of children left behind by peacekeepers in Haiti in the decade following the report, and the lack of financial and social support offered to single mothers indicate the changes were not implemented effectively.
“We need to appreciate what these wrongs do to victims and their communities, what these wrongs do to the very purpose of the United Nations’ work, because these wrongs do indeed fracture trust,” Jane Connors, the United Nations Victims’ Rights Advocate said in a press conference last year.
One of the obstacles to child support litigation is the UN’s claim of immunity. “In our cases, the UN has shown a lack of respect for the Haitian judicial system and it has not followed through on its commitments to victims,” Sandra Wisner, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, one of the groups working to sue UN peacekeepers for child support, told VICE World News. “The UN is the sole actor with the information and resources to assist victims of sexual exploitation and abuse.”
In 2015, the UN made a database public on its website that lists nearly 2000 allegations of sexual assault and sexually exploitative relationships involving its peacekeepers since 2010. The majority of confirmed allegations have resulted in repatriation, upon which the peacekeeper’s home country is responsible for holding the perpetrator accountable, instead of the UN. According to the database, upon returning to their home countries, most perpetrators have received minimal, if any consequences for their behavior. Wisner says these countries have shown themselves to be “largely unable or unwilling to provide redress to victims”.
A court in Uruguay now must agree with the Haitian court’s decision to ensure the woman is paid.
“The decision [of the court to grant child support] is an important first step for our client and the numerous other women and children affected by UN peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse,” Wisner said. “We now look to enforcement of the judgment in Uruguay. The UN’s envisioned enforcement procedure will not work without full collaboration and support from the Governments of Haiti and Uruguay, and the UN.”
In 2014, the UN began offering paternity testing for abandoned children of peacekeepers to ease child support claims in court, yet the active cases reflect a tiny proportion of the women in this situation. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is representing nine other women suing for child support in Haiti. Five women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also pursuing child support claims against UN peacekeepers.
“We hope this case will encourage similar decisions around the world and open up further discussion around the need for UN reform of its accountability system,” Wisner said.
Among recent changes, since 2017, the UN has urged all peacekeepers to carry a small pocket pamphlet to remind them to refrain from sexually exploiting the local population, especially children, or they will be forced to walk the plank. “Know the rules: there is no excuse! Zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”