Empty Promises: Peacekeeper Babies and Discretionary Impunity Within the United Nations

By Emma Svoboda

In six decades of U.N. peacekeeping operations, the presence of U.N. military units in some of the planet’s most unstable conflict zones has led to the births of tens of thousands of Peacekeeper Fathered Children (“PKFC”). Mothers of PKFC seeking acknowledgments of paternity or child support payments have been stonewalled by the United Nations; the organization has used its legal immunities to absolve itself of any responsibility to connect abandoned children with their peacekeeper fathers. This inaction has persisted despite external and internal calls for reform and promises by U.N. leadership for new pathways to remedies. This Note sets out the problems and obstacles faced by PKFC mothers when seeking paternity claims and details the ways in which U.N. policies create a remedy gap. It additionally proffers an explanation for that paradox of inaction: the United Nations’ automatic categorization of all PKFC as instances of improper Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (“SEA”). The United Nations is temperamentally disposed to zealously exercise its legal immunities as an International Organization (“IO”) to shield itself from civil or criminal claims seeking damages for rape, sexual abuse, or other misdeeds. This Note argues that impulse may be hampering the United Nations’ ability to take ownership over civil paternity claims, even as it claims that providing remedies to PKFC and their mothers is a political priority for the organization.

Cover image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67163702@N07/8229506972 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Emma Svoboda