Top Haitian human rights lawyer slams UN over sexual misconduct allegations

The case of two Quebec police officers who avoided disciplinary hearings into allegations of sexual misconduct by retiring points to systemic problems involving the United Nations in Haiti, says one of that country's leading human rights lawyers.

Stronger laws needed, Mario Joseph says about Quebec police who retired to avoid disciplinary hearings

In this June 24, 2016 photo, five-year-old Anderson Joseph walks with his mother in Port Salut, Haiti. Anderson's father, Uruguayan marine Julio Cesar Posse, was stationed in Port Salut as a UN peacekeeper. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

The case of two Quebec police officers who avoided disciplinary hearings into allegations of sexual misconduct by retiring points to systemic problems involving the United Nations in Haiti, says one of that country's leading human rights lawyers. 

Mario Joseph says countries such as Canada need to have a legal framework in place to ensure peacekeepers accused of fathering a child or sexual abuse face justice.

"There need to be laws to deal with this," Joseph said Wednesday in an interview in Montreal, where he was part of a World Social Forum panel on peacekeeping in Haiti.

Often, the worst punishment they face is repatriation, he said.

Last month, CBC News reported that a Sûreté du Québec sergeant under investigation for sleeping with Haitian women while working as a United Nations peacekeeper was able to evade a disciplinary hearing by retiring days before the hearing was to begin.

Mario Joseph, a prominent human rights lawyer in Haiti, has filed a legal notice to the United Nations on behalf of women who had children with peacekeepers. ( Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

In another case, an SQ sergeant who allegedly solicited sex from a Haitian prostitute retired last year before the police force had scheduled his disciplinary hearing.

Both SQ officers avoided any potential punishment by retiring.

9 women take legal action

Joseph, the managing attorney of the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­nationaux, headquartered in Port-au-Prince, sent a legal notice to the UN and a Haitian government minister on behalf of nine women who allegedly had children fathered by peacekeepers.

The UN has 30 days to respond or could face a civil suit from the women, who are seeking support from the fathers of their children.

One of the women was 17 when she had her child, Joseph said.

The peacekeepers in these cases are from Uruguay and Argentina, he said, but he is also looking into cases involving Canadians.

Four Quebec police officers have been accused of sexual misconduct while serving as peacekeepers in Haiti. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

"I have heard of cases involving Canadians, but I can't provide details," he said.

The women are left to pay for their education, food and everything else. It constitutes a violation of the rights of the child.- Mario Joseph, Haitian lawyer

Joseph is hoping the lawsuit encourages other women to come forward.

"This phenomenon of 'blue helmet babies' is well known in Haiti and constitutes a form of sexual exploitation," Joseph said.

"There are grave consequences. The women are left to pay for their education, food and everything else. It constitutes a violation of the rights of the child."

Zero tolerance?

At least two officers with the Montreal police service fathered children while working as peacekeepers in Haiti, CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, reported earlier this year.

The RCMP has also confirmed that a Mountie faces allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse for an incident that occurred during a peacekeeping mission abroad, though it wouldn't provide any details about the case, citing confidentiality.

The RCMP, which oversees Canada's UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), strictly prohibits intimate or sexual relations with members of the local population, due to "the difference in real or perceived power and authority."

As well, the UN has "a zero tolerance policy with respect to sexual exploitation and abuse," according to its website.

A total of 29 claims for paternity have been submitted to the UN in Haiti, Ghandi Shukry, the head of a conduct and discipline unit for MINUSTAH, told Associated Press earlier this year.

He said 18 of the claimants have been classified as "victims" by the world body because they were receiving some kind of support.

Joseph believes there are more cases, but he said some women don't want to come forward for fear of being stigmatized.

Cholera survivors chant anti-UN peacekeeping slogans the UN's headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, last year. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Joseph's law firm also is involved in a high-profile claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims who blame the UN for introducing the disease.

A U.S. federal appeals panel in New York is weighing whether the lawsuit can proceed or whether the United Nations is entitled to immunity.

with files from Associated Press