BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Lawyers representing 10 Haitian women who say they had children with U.N. peacekeepers have filed the first legal actions in Haiti against the U.N. and individual peacekeepers for child support and paternity claims.
The lawsuits filed by the Haiti-based human rights group Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) are part of a legal battle by Haitian women to force peacekeepers who they say fathered their children to contribute to their upbringing.
"Having and then abandoning children is not within the official capacity of a U.N. peacekeeper and therefore we argue that this does give a Haitian court jurisdiction to resolve paternity and child support claims," Nicole Phillips, a lawyer at the U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), who is working on the case, said Tuesday.
Ten mothers of 11 children who they say were abandoned by U.N. troops are seeking financial support from them. One of the mothers was 17 when she gave birth, which amounts to statutory rape under Haitian law, the IJDH said.
Under the U.N.'s "zero-tolerance policy," sexual relationships between peacekeepers and residents of countries hosting a U.N. mission are strongly discouraged.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation responsibility for child support rests with those "individuals who have been established to have fathered children."
The United Nations "cannot legally establish paternity or child support entitlements ... compensation is a matter of personal accountability to be determined under national legal processes," Haq said by email.
The 13-year U.N. mission left Haiti in October after being sent in to stabilize a country plagued by political turmoil.
The mission introduced a cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 people and has been dogged by accusations of sexual assault.
The Haitian mothers are struggling to bring up their children they say were fathered by soldiers from the U.N.'s peacekeeping force stationed in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, who came from Uruguay, Argentina, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, said their lawyer, Mario Joseph at BAI, who filed the lawsuits.
"These mothers and their children face severe economic difficulties and discrimination," he said, adding that six of the mothers were left homeless after Hurricane Matthew devastated the Caribbean island last year.