FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., IJDH Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1-617-652-0876 (English, French, Kreyol)
United States Chooses UN Immunity over Justice in Haiti Cholera Case
Advocates regret missed opportunity to stand up for justice
(BOSTON, March 10, 2014)—The U.S. government submitted a statement of interest late last Friday in a lawsuit seeking accountability for the United Nations’ (UN) catastrophic introduction of cholera to Haiti, arguing that the case should be dismissed because the UN is immune from suit. The epidemic has killed more than 8,500 and injured nearly 700,000 people to date.
“We are disappointed that the United States government has foregone this opportunity to stand up in support of justice for the victims,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel and Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Brian Concannon, Jr. “The UN’s immunity is a two-way street. In exchange for protection from national courts, the UN has agreed to provide victims with justice through other mechanisms. It has refused to provide such a mechanism for victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic, so here immunity means a complete lack of accountability.”
The victims initially sought to resolve their claims through the UN’s internal procedures in November 2011, but the UN rejected their petitions, stating that they were “not receivable” without providing legal justification. Said plaintiffs’ co-counsel Ira Kurzban of civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt (KKWTP), “The UN’s position is based on astoundingly circular logic: ‘we can’t receive your claims because we have decided that they are not receivable, and we can’t be sued because we have decided that we can’t be sued.’ That is nothing short of operating with impunity.”
The statement of interest notes that the UN is also refusing to waive its immunity in the federal litigation. The UN itself has refused to appear in the case, choosing instead to request the U.S. government to seek dismissal of the case on the UN’s behalf. “We understand that the U.S. government believes it has an obligation to assert immunity, but there are many other ways this could have been handled that would also have respected the victims’ right to access court,” said Jeff Brand, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The statement from the United States comes on the heels of calls from the Haitian-American community that the U.S. government stand up for victims’ rights. The UN itself has been widely criticized for failing to respond justly to the epidemic, including in statements by the U.S. Congress and UN insiders. “Although the UN claims to be setting up a commission to address the epidemic in Haiti, this was first announced in October of last year and there are still no signs of it getting off the ground,” said Concannon.
The case, Georges et al. v. United Nations et al., was filed in the Southern District of New York in October 2013 by the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH and KKWTP on behalf of five named plaintiffs. The named plaintiffs include both Haitian and Haitian-American victims of cholera, and the lawsuit seeks to proceed as a class action on behalf of all who have been injured or killed since the disease broke out in 2010.