11 March 2013

Concannon Disagrees with Fan and Kayyem on the UN and Cholera in Haiti

What should the UN do about cholera in Haiti?

I highlighted the recent disagreement over whether the UN can and should claim responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti. The evidence of their fault is overwhelming and there is no real disagreement over that fact. It is also generally agreed that the UN should take the lead in the recovery and rebuilding work related to the outbreak. They caused it, so they have to fix it. The consensus comes apart slightly over the area of paying victims. The article on Monday was meant to highlight some of the dissenting opinions and arguments.

That elicited an email exchange with Brian Concannon, the Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). His firm is trying to bring forward a lawsuit against the UN on behalf of some of the victims. IJDH is calling on the UN to 1) Accept guilt and apologize to the victims; 2) Pay damages to the victims; 3) Do everything in its power to support the building of water and sanitation infrastructure that will prevent future cholera outbreaks.

Concannon said that the UN can be held responsible without damaging its work in other countries or overall mission. Here is his explanation and points that refute the blog post from Victoria Fan and article by Juliette Kayyam.
First, there is no question that, as a general rule the UN is responsible for harms it causes during its peacekeeping missions. That is absolutely clear on the books, and in practice- the UN has been compensating people harmed by peacekeeping for decades. So the UN responding to our claim within its system would not imperil its immunity as Kayyem avers. The UN responds fairly to claims every day without sacrificing immunity. The UN is imperiling its immunity by not responding fairly in our case, because that leaves us no option but to go to a national court, where a judge outraged by the UN’s outrageous behavior might chip away at the immunity.
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