Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Prominent international law scholars file amicus brief in cholera case, tell court UN broke promises to victims

Well-known international law scholars filed an amicus brief in support of cholera victims that notes that several international treaties, as well as the UN’s own General Assembly resolutions, legal opinions and practices establish an obligation for the organization to compensate people harmed by UN operations—an obligation which has not been fulfilled in the cholera case.

The brief was submitted by Muneer Ahmad, José Alvarez, Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Gráinne de Búrca, Frédéric Mégret, Alice Miller, Scott Sheeran, Nico Schrijver, and Fran Quigley. José Alvarez, Professor of International Law at New York University School of Law, one of the signers of the brief, noted that “the UN has committed itself at the highest levels to the promotion and fulfillment of the rule of law, but apparently sees no contradiction in promoting accountability—including legal accountability—in others while refusing to address how the national or international law applies to itself in this case.”

Part of the brief is below. Click HERE for the full document.



I. The United Nations Has an Obligation to Respond to Claims of a Private Law Nature

Section 2 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the
United Nations (“General Convention”) states that “[T]he United Nations, its property and assets wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except insofar as in any particular case it has expressly waived its immunity.” Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, adopted Feb. 13, 1946, 21 U.S.T. 1418, 1 U.N.T.S. 16. But this Section cannot be read in isolation. A more comprehensive review of the immunity question, one that includes the United Nations (“UN”) Charter itself, along with other binding documents and decades of organizational statements and institutional practice, reveals that this immunity is a privilege with limitations.

In fact, the same General Convention imposes a clear and substantial duty on the UN to
accept responsibility and provide remedy for harm caused by its actions or the actions of its agents. Article VIII, Section 29 of the General Convention reads, under the heading ‘Settlement of Disputes,” as follows: “The United Nations shall make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement of: (a) Disputes arising out of contracts or other disputes of a private law character to which the United Nations is a party; (b) Disputes involving any official of the United Nations who by reason of his official position enjoys immunity, if immunity has not been waived by the Secretary-General.” General Convention, art. VII, § 29. This explicit acknowledgement of organizational responsibility fulfilled the more generalized call for limited immunity issued in the UN Charter, which states that the UN should enjoy only those privileges and immunities that “are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes.” Charter of the United Nations, art. 105, 59 Stat. 1031, TS 993 (1945).


Click HERE for the full document.

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