PORT SALUT, Haiti — The first time Rosa Mina Joseph met Julio César Posse he was hanging out in civilian clothes on the beach in her hometown in southern Haiti, where he was stationed as a member of a U.N. peacekeeping force.
Within weeks, she says, the Uruguayan marine was showing up every weekend at her family’s shack, pledging his love in Spanish and broken Haitian Creole.
But about a year later when his rotation ended, Posse quietly returned home. He left behind Joseph, a broken-hearted 17-year-old with an infant and no way to support the child without depending on struggling relatives.
“He promised me he’d marry me and would take care of me,” Joseph, now 22, tearfully said in a recent interview at her mother’s house in Port Salut, a town along the southwestern tip of Haiti.
After years of mounting frustration, she and several other women with children fathered by peacekeepers say they will now pursue claims for child support against the absentee fathers and the U.N.
Haitian human rights attorney Mario Joseph said he will file civil suits in Haiti this month. Joseph’s law firm also is involved in a high-profile claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims who blame the U.N. for introducing the disease. A U.S. federal appeals panel in New York is weighing whether the lawsuit can proceed or if the United Nations is entitled to immunity.
The peacekeeping force was sent to Haiti in 2004 to keep order following a violent rebellion that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Since then, some peacekeepers have been accused of rape and other abuse, of using excessive force and of inadvertently introducing cholera because of inadequate sanitation at a base used by troops from Nepal.
U.N. troops have been accused of sexual exploitation elsewhere as well, most recently in the Central African Republic, and “peacekeeper babies,” have long been a legacy of their deployments, as they have for other military forces throughout history.
Rosa Mina Joseph, whose son was born in 2011, said she received an envelope with $300 in cash from the U.N. two years ago when it established paternity. She had to drop out of school to care for the son and her dreams of becoming a nurse have all but vanished.
Posse sent her $100 once from Uruguay, she said, but has not sent anything more.
While Joseph was a minor at the time she gave birth, potential criminal charges against the marine would confront a difficult legal challenge: U.N. peacekeepers can’t be prosecuted in the countries in which they serve under international agreements.
A news agency does not typically identify sexual assault victims, but Joseph gave permission as long as a photo of her face was not published.
“I want him to take responsibility to care for his son because I don’t have the means by myself,” she said in the yard where she spends her days doing laundry and cooking.
The U.N. force in Haiti currently includes 4,899 uniformed personnel, a combination of military and civilian police, from more than a dozen countries. That’s down from over 13,000 peacekeepers following Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
Ghandi Shukry, head of a Conduct and Discipline Unit in the U.N. mission, which is known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, said 29 claims for paternity have been submitted to the U.N. in Haiti. He said 18 of the claimants have been classified as “victims” by the world body because they were receiving some kind of support.
“We are not facing a current wave of paternity claims. They are all kind of old cases,” said Shukry, stressing that any kind of sexual relations by peacekeepers and locals is prohibited.
The U.N. official confirmed that Joseph and three other Port Salut women represented by the attorney did have paternity established in 2014 after DNA swabs from the mothers, children and peacekeepers were analyzed. He declined to discuss any of the cases in detail.
He said that two members of his unit maintain regular contact with the Port Salut women. MINUSTAH also put the women in touch with a Uruguayan military representative, he said, since the U.N. allows troop-contributing countries to investigate allegations and decide how to pursue paternity claims.
The Port Salut women, however, say contact with U.N. staffers or Uruguay’s military representative is rare and generally bewildering.
A 2015 U.N. report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that there were “numerous obstacles to having paternity recognized and to obtaining support for children of United Nations personnel, whether they were born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse or not.”
MINUSTAH’s uniformed personnel are now barred from leaving bases alone or when wearing civilian clothing and mission rules have changed in recent years to prohibit any fraternization. “Not only sexual relations are prohibited; even having normal relations with the local population is prohibited,” Shukry said.
Uruguay’s Navy spokesman, P. Gastón Jaunsolo, acknowledged there have been a small number of paternity cases and said service members found guilty are sanctioned and barred from peacekeeping missions.
He confirmed that Posse continued in the Navy and said service members are forbidden to speak the press without permission. A listed phone number for Posse was out of service. His profile on a social networking site says he’s looking for a young woman between 18 and 25 to start a family with.
The Uruguayan Army issued a statement to a news agency saying it’s sent roughly 3,000 troops to Haiti since 2011 and four paternity allegations were made against that military branch. There’s been one positive DNA test, the statement said, and no complaints have been made since 2014. It said the soldier who tested positive was punished but not discharged.
Meanwhile, the women struggling to raise their kids in Port Salut are eking out a living with the help of their families. Their children are sometimes teased by other kids who call them “MINUSTAH babies” or mockingly ask where their daddies are.
“When he’s older I’ll find a way to explain things. For now, the only thing I can say is that his father’s not here,” Joseph said as she held a snapshot showing her and Posse together at her 17th birthday party, a heart drawn on the back of it reading “Osemina y Julio.”