Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

IJDH Director Brian Concannon “Haitians Battle for Restitution from U.N. for Cholera Outbreak” (CNN)

IJDH Director Brian Concannon on CNN Newsroom Transcript
December 29, 2011

KAYE: Just over a year ago, earthquake-devastated Haiti was hit by a deadly outbreak of cholera. Since then, the government says more than 6,000 people have died and 450,000 others sickened by the disease, a story we think is under covered. Now, a human rights group is suing the U.N. on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Evidence suggests the cholera was inadvertently brought to Haiti by Nepalese troops with the U.N. peacekeeping force. A study by the U.N. found a local contractor failed to properly dispose of the waste at a U.N. base. Attorneys for the victims accuse the U.N. of reckless failure in containing the outbreak.

We received the following statement of the U.N. “The United Nations has received the claim by the Institute for Justice and Democracy and is currently considering the matter. As this concerns a legal claim, we cannot comment on it.”

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is based in Boston. Brian Concannon is the group’s director.

Thank you, Brian, for joining us today.

What, if anything, have you heard from the U.N. beyond the statement we just read?

BRIAN CONCANNON, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE AND DEMOCRACY: We’ve heard just that statement. They’re studying it. In the meantime, an estimated 40,000 more Haitians have been sick and probably about 300 people have died, and so this is an urgent matter and does require an urgent response. So it’s disconcerting that the U.N. is taking so much time to come up with an initial response.

KAYE: How do you intend to prove that the U.N. is responsible?

CONCANNON: Most of the proof is in the U.N.’s own report. The U.N. issued a report by a panel of experts in May which cited overwhelming evidence that it was — that the cholera was introduced from Nepal and it cited the failure to test peacekeepers coming from Nepal where everybody knew there was a cholera epidemic. And also, the improper — as you mentioned, the improper waste disposal, which allowed contamination of Haiti’s largest river system in two different places. So the proof in the U.N. report is actually all we really need. There have been other studies that are more conclusive in terms of the genetics of the cholera strain. It’s actually a very easy case in terms of the actual proof. The hard part is getting to court, which the U.N. has been resisting.

KAYE: But from what I understand, U.N. forces are immune to criminal charges. How do you get around that?

CONCANNON: The U.N. has an agreement with Haiti called the Status of Forces Agreement that protects it from Haitian courts. But there have been other courts, not in Haiti and not with the U.N., but other courts that said that immunity cannot mean impunity. And they said that with the Status of Forces Agreement, the U.N. has a responsibility to set up an alternative dispute mechanism — dispute resolution mechanism. And in other cases, the courts have said, if the international organization does not set up a fair, alternative mechanism, then they’ll refuse to respect the immunity provision. So we think that if the U.N. does not come back with a response soon, we can go in to Haitian or U.S. courts.

KAYE: Just very quickly, before we have to go here, can you let us know how you think the Haitian government is handling the outbreak and how things are going?

CONCANNON: Well, it’s the worst Cholera epidemic in the world. There’s — over 200 people are dying each month and this is a year later. Obviously, it has not been handled well. What needs to be happening — this is what the clients are asking, is for the clean water and sanitation and health care structures put in to place to control the epidemic.

KAYE: Brian Concannon, appreciate your time. Thank you.

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