Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Does UN Immunity Hold in Haiti Cholera Case?

This article gives a thorough explanation of both sides of the oral arguments on the question of UN immunity.  The US, on behalf of the UN, argued that immunity holds unless the UN expressly waives that right. The plaintiffs argued that UN immunity doesn’t need to be expressly waived in this case because it failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN. The judge has deferred his decision.

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Haiti Cholera Victims Get First Hearing in Court

Center for Economic and Policy Research
October 23, 2014

“Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them,” concluded Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School, at today’s federal District Court hearing concerning the U.N.’s immunity for introducing cholera to Haiti. “That need not be the case here,” said Ahmad.

For one day, at least, the Southern District federal court in New York did open their doors, as Judge Oetken heard oral arguments in the case George et al. V. United Nations et al. The question before the court today was whether or not the U.N. and its officers should have immunity from claims arising from the introduction of cholerainto Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010.

“It is not seriously disputed that the U.N. is responsible for causing this devastating epidemic,” stated Beatrice Lindstrom, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and counsel for the thousands of Haitian cholera victims represented in the suit.  The U.N. did not appear in court but rather it was U.S. government attorney Ellen Blain who spoke in defense of U.N. immunity, citing the U.S.’s obligation as host nation to the U.N.

Lindstrom argued that the U.N.’s immunity, as called for in Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [doc] (CPIUN) did not need to be expressly waived by the U.N., because it had failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in Section 29 of the CPIUN.  Lindstrom stated that these two sections were “two-sides of the came coin” and that the convention must be interpreted “in whole.”  By failing to live up to its obligations under Section 29, the U.N. would not be able to then claim immunity under Section 2. U.S. attorneys argued that there was no link between the two sections and pointed to previous cases where U.S. courts have upheld immunity.

However, in those previous cases, the plaintiffs argued, the U.N. had provided an alternative dispute mechanism, and the question was over its adequacy. This was the first case before U.S. courts where the U.N. had failed entirely to live up to its obligations under Section 29, according to the plaintiffs as well as international law scholars, who filed amicus curiae with the court.

 

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