Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Debate on Service of Suit to Ban Ki-moon Continues

This article gives more details, from both sides, on what happened when a second group of lawyers tried to serve UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a cholera lawsuit. While the lawyers say it was successfully placed in Ban Ki-moon’s hands, the Secretary General’s spokesman says security intervened before that happened. Meanwhile, the UN continues to claim no legal responsibility for bringing the epidemic to Haiti.

U.N. Chief Served Papers in Suit by Haitian Victims, Lawyers Say

Rick Gladstone, The New York Times
June 20, 2014

The United Nations has been resisting, successfully so far, lawsuits from Haiti cholera victims who assert that United Nations peacekeepers caused the 2010 epidemic still ravaging the country. But on Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs said, something new happened: Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was personally served with court papers ordering him to appear, an assertion that his spokesman denied.

In what the lawyers called a precedent, they said a process server was able to place, into Mr. Ban’s hands, a summons and complaint, requiring a response. United Nations officials have argued that the organization is insulated from such legal entanglements because of immunity treaties and other protections, and have even refused to allow servers of court papers into the body’s New York headquarters.

“This is a significant development in the fight to hold the United Nations responsible for the tragic events in Haiti,” said Stanley N. Alpert, one of the lawyers representing more than 1,500 Haitians who have filed a suit against Mr. Ban and the United Nations in Federal District Court in Brooklyn. The suit is seeking compensation, which could theoretically run into the billions of dollars.

A spokesman for Mr. Ban, Farhan Haq, denied the secretary general had touched the papers, which Mr. Haq said an unidentified person had tried to give him as he was walking toward the Asia Society on Manhattan’s East Side on Friday morning to deliver a speech.

Mr. Ban “craned over to have a look,” said Mr. Haq, who was accompanying the secretary general and a security detail. Mr. Haq said one of Mr. Ban’s security aides intervened and declined to accept them. “We were not served with the papers,” he said.

Mr. Alpert, who was not present, offered a different version. “Our process server personally put the papers into Ban Ki-moon’s hands,” he said. “After he put them in his hands, a security guard with him smacked the papers out of his hands and onto the ground.”

Regardless, Mr. Alpert said, “he was served.”

Other legal representatives of Haitians seeking redress from the United Nations said the personal encounter with the process server might have been unprecedented, but it was not the first time Mr. Ban had been served with court papers over the cholera epidemic.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based legal rights group that helped prepare another lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, said its process server, after repeated attempts to personally deliver papers to Mr. Ban, affixed them to the door of his Manhattan residence in January. That is a legal method known as “Nail and Mail.”

Cholera has killed more than 8,300 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands since it first appeared in the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. Forensic studies, including one ordered by the United Nations, have identified the cholera bacteria as an Asian strain carried by Nepalese members of a United Nations peacekeeping force there.

United Nations officials have described the epidemic as an enormous tragedy and have set up a fund to help but have said the organization bears no legal responsibility for causing it.

Mr. Alpert said the United Nations response reflected what he called its attitude of unaccountability.

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