24 July 2013

UN doubles down on refusal to accept Haiti cholera lawsuit

The United Nations again refused to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti caused by a peacekeeping unit from Nepal.

Legal claims against the UN were again rejected as the body reaffirmed its stance that it is a ‘political and policy matter.’

The cholera outbreak that started in October 2010 has killed nearly 8,200 Haitians and infected an estimated 665,00 people. More evidence, including a study published this month, shows that the cholera was imported from Nepal by a peacekeeping unit and was spread due to improper waste disposal into a nearby river.

A letter from the UN addressed to Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), refused to consider mediation and said that “there is no basis for such engagement in connection with claims that are not receivable.” Patricia O’Brien, Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs for the UN’s Legal Counsel, also refuted claims by IJDH that the UN has not lived up to its obligation to the victims of he cholera outbreak. She includes excerpts from recent remarks by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“Since the outbreak of the disease, the United Nations, in cooperation with other partners, has taken several steps to contain and combat the epidemic and prevent future outbreaks,” said Ban. “These efforts have helped to decrease the rate of new infection by 90 per cent since the outbreak began. The mortality rate has been brought down to around 1 per cent. Still, further progress must be made.”

The UN invoked Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN to say that the claims of the victims of the cholera outbreak made on their behalf by IJDH were not receivable, in a February 21 letter. IJDH responded on May 7 to the UN arguing that the international law requires the UN to “consider and settle claims filed by third parties for injury illness and death attributable to the UN or its peacekeeping forces.” It gave notice to the UN that the lawyers representing the victims would pursue a lawsuit in national court if an appropriate response is not received in 60 days.

US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and eighteen of her colleagues wrote to Ban in late May calling for him to use his powers to ensure that the UN takes responsibility for the cholera outbreak. They say that the evidence that UN peacekeepers were responsible for bringing cholera into Haiti compels the UN to take responsibility, issue an apology and compensate the victims.

“We are concerned by the United Nations’ rejection of the claims made by 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and families of victims, who sued the United Nations,” wrote Waters and her co-signers.

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