Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Court Weighs UN’s Immunity

This article was written for Omvärlden, the Swedish Development Agency’s magazine. It is the first of two articles they wrote about the October 23 cholera hearing. (Here‘s the 2nd.)

An unofficial translation is below. HERE‘s a link to the original article.

Court Weighs UN’s Immunity

Anki Wood, OmVarlden
October 29, 2014

On Thursday, a court hearing was held in New York, where five Haitians are holding the UN to account for having caused the cholera epidemic that has taken thousands of lives in the country since 2011. The UN has asserted its immunity and the court is now set to decide if the case can continue.

The cholera epidemic is believed to be caused by a Nepalese peacekeeping troop that arrived just a week before the outbreak. Medical experts have in several different studies demonstrated that the active bacteria strain was most identical with one that was simultaneously ravaging Nepal.

The UN has until now rejected all requests for compensation from victims by pointing to the organization’s immunity.

During the hearing, Judge Paul Oetken listened to both sides’ arguments. Now the court will decide if the UN’s immunity applies or if the case can proceed.

“In a big case like this, it’s standard procedure [for the court to reserve decision]. We don’t know how long it will take before the court reaches a decision, it could be weeks or months,” writes Beatrice Lindstrom, the lawyer who argued for the Haitians, in an email to OmVärlden.

Beatrice Lindstrom works for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, IJDH, which together with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), represents those injured. There are five named plaintiffs in the case, and they hope the case will proceed as a class action.

“Our argument is that the UN has refused to provide the victims compensation.” The UN has a right to immunity, but only when the organization makes it possible for injured individuals to receive compensation, Lindstrom stated.

Officially, the UN has neither admitted its guilt nor compensated the injured. Nor have they established a claims commission where the injured can turn with their complaints and requests for compensation, as they are required to do by their own regulations.

The UN was represented by an attorney from the United States’ State Department. He argued in court that the UN’s immunity is absolute and not affected by how the organization has responded to victims’ demands for compensation out of court.

Today, four years after the cholera outbreak, the number dead from the disease exceeds 8500 and the number injured exceeds 700,000. People continue to die today, though the epidemic has slowed down compared to early days.

It’s unusual for a case that concerns the UN to be heard in court. Beatrice Lindstrom with IJDH believes it was a victory for the court to grant the hearing.

“Even that was an enormous step towrads justice. We believe we have strong chances of winning,” she writes.


Click HERE for the original (in Swedish).

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