Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Hearing Held in UN Cholera Case



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Hearing Held in UN Cholera Case

Plaintiffs argue against UN claim to absolute immunity from justice

(New York, October 23, 2014)—Marking the first court proceeding in Georges v. United Nations, oral argument took place this morning in front of Judge J. Paul Oetken at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Counsel for Plaintiffs and amici curiae presented arguments on whether the UN can invoke immunity when it refuses to comply with its international law obligation to provide  victims of the UN cholera in Haiti access to justice.

The argument is a pivotal moment in the case seeking to hold the UN accountable for introducing cholera to Haiti in 2010. To date, the epidemic has killed over 8,500 and infected more than 700,000 Haitians. It has become the worst cholera epidemic of modern times.

Arguing for Plaintiffs, Beatrice Lindstrom, Staff Attorney for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), pointed out that even the UN’s own experts concluded that the UN was responsible for the outbreak, and the UN has repeatedly confirmed its obligation to compensate people injured by its operations. Lindstrom explained that the UN’s immunity claim in this case extends far beyond the previous limits recognized by U.S. Courts. “The UN is claiming that one part of the UN’s General Convention prevents any other court from reviewing anything the organization does, no matter how much the UN breaches reciprocal obligations under the Convention, no matter how much bad faith it displays.”

Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, also represents the cholera victims. He noted that “the UN spends lots of time and money telling our officials and citizens to respect the rule of law. Then it refuses to have the law apply to itself after killing thousands of Haitians. Does the UN think Haitians do not notice the double standard?”

Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., Director of IJDH, said that “under the law, immunity is a two-way street. The UN has protection from national courts, for good reason, but also has an obligation to provide an alternate mechanism for justice, also for good reason. This principle has been recognized by many courts, especially in Europe. Today’s hearing gets the principle a big step closer towards recognition by U.S. courts.”


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