Haitian Children Search For Their UN Peacekeeper Fathers
Haitian Children Search For Their UN Peacekeeper Fathers
Farhad Wajdi was in Kabul with his parents and siblings just a year ago, running a nonprofit that provided local women with street food carts.
They were making international headlines and gaining support from US-based NGOs as well as the Afghan government. But now comes the Taliban’s return to power in the country, which, too, is tragic. JACMEL, HAITIAN REPUBLIC — Jui opened Google Translate on her iPad one evening last November and began writing her first-ever message to her father.
“Hello, Dad,” she typed in Creole, the words appearing on the right side of the screen in Spanish. “I’m your abandoned daughter.”
The 9-year-old told the United Nations peacekeeper from Uruguay who abandoned her when she was barely out of the hospital that she harbored no hatred and was only looking for an answer to a single question: What did we do to deserve this treatment?
She is still checking Facebook Messenger for a response from her father, Hector Dilamar Silva Borges, nine months later.
His absence has hung over her life since she was a child. She and her mother, Phanie, waited three years for their child support case to be heard in Haitian courts. Then, in December, more than two years after the UN confirmed Borges is Jui’s father through a DNA test, a judge issued an unprecedented ruling ordering him to pay $3,590 per month, a landmark decision that could affect families across the country with similar cases.
Between 2004 and 2017, UN peacekeepers fathered dozens of children in Haiti, often with women to whom they provided money and food — behavior that UN policy “strongly discouraged” due to the “inherently unequal power dynamics.” Initially deployed in response to a coup attempt and the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, their force grew in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. But none of them stayed long, and when their rotations ended, they abandoned their babies, leaving behind a generation of children born into a country struggling to rebuild, with limited access to food, education, and healthcare.
After President Jovenel Mose’s assassination in July threatened to destabilize the country — and before a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southern coast in August, killing over 2,200 people and destroying entire towns — calls for the UN to send new peacekeepers rang out around the world.
The possibility of a new influx of peacekeepers triggered resentment among some of the women in Haiti who are still seeking assistance from the peacekeepers who arrived a decade ago. Except for one, all of their claims for child support from UN peacekeepers have been denied in Haitian courts. Lawyers for the women claim that the UN and the peacekeepers’ home countries are withholding critical documents, and that judges are hesitant to rule against an international institution or countries that are providing Haiti with critical resources such as funding, training, and jobs that offer a way out of the country — or a handsome salary.
In response to questions for this story, a UN spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the organization has a zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse, and that it works with local communities to encourage people to come forward with claims, including the recent distribution of 6,000 flyers on the issue in Port-au-Prince. The spokesperson stated that the decision in favor of Jui was “very important,” and that the UN was ready to work with national authorities in the future.
The Uruguayan National System in Support of Peace Operations, which is in charge of overseeing peacekeeper training and liaising with the UN, told BuzzFeed News that it had not received notification of the ruling against Borges and that the country’s judicial system “does not permit in absentia convictions.”
In 2017, the Port-au-Prince-based law firm representing Phanie and Jui, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, initiated child support claims from UN peacekeepers on behalf of nine other families. It is unknown how many such cases are still pending in Haitian courts.
“I was crossing my fingers for this ruling because if there is one, we will get more,” said Mario Joseph, managing attorney at the firm. “It will pave the way for other courts.”
Even so, it was a glimmer of hope. Eight months after the ruling, Jui and Phanie had yet to receive a single dollar from Borges, who is still a member of the Uruguayan navy and did not respond to a request for comment.
Since 1948, the UN peacekeepers’ signature blue helmets have become common sights at scenes of devastation and turmoil around the world. Those who wear the UN uniform are usually members of their home country’s military, which the UN reimburses with a fee for each person it enlists. Peacekeepers gained credibility in most of the world as a moral compass for the global age by presenting themselves as an independent force that feeds the hungry and intervenes in genocides. However, evidence of abuse on several missions in recent years has tarnished their reputation, perhaps nowhere more so than in Haiti, where peacekeepers were in charge of building shelters and distributing food following the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed over a quarter-million people and flattened much of the country.
Even as the aftershocks continued, some peacekeepers began trading food for sex in the tent cities that sprang up to house the hundreds of thousands of displaced families, as well as in the areas surrounding the UN bases.
“I tried to point as many fingers as I could and raise the alarm,” said Lina AbiRafeh, a women’s rights activist who coordinated the UN response to gender-based violence after the 2010 earthquake. She said she received frequent reports of abuse and exploitation and “acted on each report, through every channel available,” but UN officials “didn’t take them seriously or investigate them in a timely manner.”
Abuse and exploitation became widespread. According to a study published last year in Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, peacekeepers began “going to the beach, acting like tourists, drinking, and chasing girls.” Sabine Lee and Susan Bartels, two of the study’s authors, oversaw a 2017 survey of approximately 2,500 Haitians. 265 of those polled said they either had a child with a UN peacekeeper or knew someone who did. Almost half of the UN peacekeepers surveyed were from Uruguay and Brazil.
According to the UN’s database, of the 120 reports of sexual abuse or exploitation received in Haiti since 2007, the UN has opened 88 investigations and returned 41 uniformed personnel. Twelve of those have spent an unspecified amount of time in jail in their home countries, nine have been kicked out of their country’s military, and two have faced financial sanctions.
The problem of peacekeepers sexually abusing or exploiting local women is not limited to Haiti; according to the database, there have been 1,143 allegations in at least a dozen countries since 2007. However, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, has seen a number of scandals, including a sex ring in which more than 130 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine Haitian children, according to an Associated Press investigation. According to a UN spokesperson, it wasn’t until 2015 that the UN began requiring peacekeepers’ home countries to certify that deployed military personnel had no prior allegations of human rights violations.
Not only the UN, but also Oxfam GB, failed to act on reports of its aid workers sexually abusing Haitian girls as young as 12 in 2011. Several American missionaries have been imprisoned in Haiti for sexually abusing children.
The private struggles of the families abandoned by UN peacekeepers are set against the larger struggles of a nation beleaguered by a seemingly never-ending string of tragedies.
Rose Mina Joseph, then 16, met Julio Cesar Posse, a 35-year-old Uruguayan marine, at a beach party in Port-Salut, a southwestern seaside town, a few months after the 2010 earthquake. Rose Mina claimed that Posse forced her into sex.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Rose Mina admitted during an interview at her home earlier this month. It was considered statutory rape under Haitian law at the time.
Soon after, Rose Mina discovered she was pregnant, and Posse returned home within months of the birth of her son Anderson. Rose Mina had to rely on family members to feed her newborn. Posse once gave her $100 using a service similar to Western Union. It was the only time he sent help, she claimed.
Posse served in the Uruguayan navy until 2018, according to navy spokesperson Alejandro Chucarro. According to Carina de los Santos, legal adviser at the Uruguayan National System in Support of Peace Operations, Posse was subjected to “severe sanctions restricting his freedom,” but his departure from the navy was unrelated to his paternity case in Haiti. She did not elaborate on the sanctions. Posse did not respond to a comment request.
Despite the fact that the 2010 earthquake brought a slew of international organizations to Haiti, their impact was frequently underwhelming and, at times, damaging.
While Anderson was still breastfeeding, cholera became an epidemic after being introduced by Nepalese UN peacekeepers through a sewage leak at one of their bases. It killed at least 10,000 people and sickened over 800,000 more. Simultaneously, international donations for reconstruction efforts began to dwindle for no apparent reason: According to a ProPublica investigation, the American Red Cross raised half a billion dollars but only built six homes. A $300 million industrial park inaugurated by the Clintons and Sean Penn fell short of expectations, creating few jobs and attracting fewer tenants. Meanwhile, the Haitian government embezzled a large portion of a $2 billion loan from Venezuela intended to be invested in education, health, and sanitation.