New York City's Family Courts increasingly are clogged with litigation over child support that employees of the United Nations owe but refuse to pay. The flood of cases (I know of at least 50) is recent: until a 1994 change in internal U.N. regulations, a result of pressure from desperate mothers, suing a U.N. worker for child support was nearly impossible. In fact, learning how much a U.N. worker gets paid was impossible until 1994, though non-U.N. litigants for child support have long been able to compel disclosure of salary information.
Even so, suing a deadbeat diplomat remains daunting. A litigant can't serve a U.N. employee with court papers at work, since the U.N. has diplomatic immunity from civil process, so a summons server must go to his home. That's if the server can find him: the worker's address is often unknown, since he's concealing his location from a wife or a girlfriend. If he's posted abroad, complex Hague Convention rules make serving him with papers time-consuming. And getting the attention of his boss can take weeks.
Kwadwo Nyamekye offers a representative case. A native of Ghana, Nyamekye is senior consultant to the U.N.'s Centre for Human Rights in Geneva, where he earns a tax-free $150,000 salary. He fathered a son out of wedlock in New York in 1981, yet paid almost nothing to support him until 1996. All the while, he collected big U.N. child-support and education allowances. In Mayor Giuliani's blunt language, this guy's a bum. In January 1995, the mother of Nyamekye's American son, furious at U.N. stonewalling, filed a petition for support in the Family Court. Nyamekye finally agreed to pay $1,000 per month in child support as well as the tuition for the boy's private school.
But Nyamekye didn't pony up. After much hand-wringing, the U.N. told him that unless he submitted to income deduction for the payments, the organization would fire him, though that would be no help to mother and child. Even now, the farce continues: after withholding money from several of Nyamekye's paychecks, the U.N. then spent months dithering over where to send it. To the mother? The court? No one at the U.N. wanted to decide. Finally, the U.N. sent the money to the court.
Why so much trouble in getting a simple court order fulfilled? The U.N. could have followed its staff regulations, which permit family support deductions. But the institutional culture at the U.N. says that, if something needs doing, appoint a committee, or, better yet, many committees, so nothing gets done. As a result, diplomatic deadbeats have little incentive to change their dishonorable ways.