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Snellville attorney, team to take Haitian sex assault case

SNELLVILLE -- A Snellville attorney will fly to Haiti this week to take up the cause of an 18-year-old Haitian man who was allegedly sexually assaulted by United Nations peacekeepers from Uruguay, a case that's made waves throughout Latin America.

The alleged victim and his family have hired seasoned international law attorney Mike Puglise and his team that includes Cobb attorney Bob Barr, a former congressman and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee. The group has worked extensively in Haiti and elsewhere overseas, including the case of an exiled former Haitian president earlier this year.

Puglise said the assault in question occurred in late July when the victim was snatched by a U.N. soldier outside a base in Port-Salut.

The scandal arose two weeks ago, after a Uruguayan peacekeeper shared his cellphone with a group of young Haitians who discovered a video showing the victim apparently being abused inside the base.

The video shows him repeatedly saying "no problem" as a group of Uruguayans shout at him and hold him face-down on a mattress, while a peacekeeper either performs or simulates a sex act between his legs and slaps him, the Associated Press reported.

"What's really disturbing in the video is you hear the laughter in the background," Puglise told the Daily Post. "It made me physically ill."

The assault left the man with physical injuries noted by doctors in Haiti, but he chose not to implicate the peacekeepers because "he was scared to death," Puglise said.

Uruguay's president called the incident shameful and publicly apologized to Haitian President Michel Martelly and his people. Other Uruguayan officials have described the episode as a "bad joke," the AP reported.

Puglise, 50, who once worked Gwinnett streets as an officer for Lilburn and Gwinnett County police departments, expects to fly to Haiti on Thursday morning to spearhead efforts in a civil case against the United Nations and Uruguay. The case, he hopes, will bring to the forefront civil rights "atrocities" committed by the thousands of UN peacekeepers in the embattled country, Puglise said.

"We're sanctioning animals to protect a country that has been ravaged by war, hurricanes and most certainly the earthquake," Puglise said.

Haitian officials are urging Uruguayan leaders and the U.N. to bring criminal charges, and the case could be heard in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, Puglise said.

With the civil case, Puglise said his client's safety is paramount to a potential settlement. Barr is seeking State Department assistance in Washington DC to gain asylum in the United States for the alleged victim and family, Puglise said.

In January, the team of lawyers signed on to represent former Haitian president Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who had mysteriously returned to the country following exile in 1986.

Faced with mounting civil suits and a reopened 2008 case that alleged embezzlement, money laundering and murder, Duvalier called on Puglise, Barr and longtime friend Ed Marger, a Jasper-based attorney, for representation.

Duvalier has not been formally charged and plans to makes his permanent home in Port-Au-Prince, Puglise said.

Foreign and defense ministers from Latin American countries were expected to meet last week to discuss the sexual assault case and decide the future of the U.N. mission in Haiti, the AP reported.

Those countries have more than 12,000 peacekeepers in Haiti.