Un Continues To Discriminate

After decades of shielding delinquent dads and callous ex-husbands, the United Nations now has new rules to enforce court-ordered spousal and child support payments. Until now, the UN, as an international institution, has declined to honor such orders (in support of women) issued by the courts of any nation[ldots]

Un Continues To Discriminate While UN officials say the change in rules will help women collect payments owed to them and their children, women's activists charge that the organization, which says it is trying to help millions of women across the world, needs to do more to clean up its own house.

When spouses refuse to comply with court-ordered support payments, US law allows the money to be withheld from ther person's wages. All employers are expected to comply with this law, but the UN as an international organization is immune from legal process of any one country.

Responding to years of complaints by women and a recent rash of negative press reports, the UN has finally enabled women to collect on unpaid child and family support in a timely manner.

According to the new rules, if a spouse or lawyer informs the UN that a staff member has failed to comply with family-support court orders, he will be given 30 days to submit proof of compliance.

If no proof is submitted, the UN will start deducting the amount from his salary and hand it over to the spouse, former spouse or dependent children, as ordered by the court.

Before the rules changed, there had been little public debate in the UN about the plight of women and children abruptly cut off from all support. But officials say that is slowly changing. The UN Family Rights Committee - unoficially known as the First Wives Club, a group helping divorced or abandoned women - estimates that there may be as many as 100 women in New York alone who are owed payments. There are similar groups of women to be found in other cities where the UN has a significant presence, such as Geneva and Vienna.

Diana Boernstein, a lawyer associated with the group, says that the new rule will help only some of these women. Many of the cases deal with pensions, and the new rule has no jurisdiction over this matter, she said. Staff members' pensions come from a collective pool incorporating to 19 organizations.

The UN Joint Staff Pension is governed by a board over which the UN Secretariat has no independent jurisdiction, said Raymong Gieri, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Joint Staff Pension[ldots]After divorce, many of these spouses - often middle-aged or older women - face deportation from the US, even after years of living here.

Most UN staff are on visas that do not allow them to apply for US citizenship. Spousal visas also do not allow women to work in the countries where their husbands are posted. After years of following their husbands around the world, many of these women have lost their marketable skills and are unable to find a job. Away from their home countries for as many as 20 to 30 years, they may have also dropped out of their country's social welfare system.

Many of these women have nowhere to go, and lawyers say many have gone underground and live precarious lives as illegal immigrants.

The issue has come up before the pension board every year since 1978, but nothing's been done. These women have been abandoned by the UN system and have no recourse to justice."