Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Cholera Hearing Will Scrutinize UN Immunity

Thursday, October 23 we will have a hearing in New York Federal Court, about the issue of UN immunity. This article does an excellent job of explaining what the hearing is all about and giving a brief history of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, which precipitated this case. It also features an interview with Brian Concannon, IJDH Executive Director.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Outbreak On Trial: Who’s To Blame For Bringing Disease Into A Country?

Richard Knox, WBUR’s CommonHealth
October 17, 2014

Francina Devariste, 3 years old, is one victim of an ongoing cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed 8,000 people and sickened over 700,000. (Photo: 2010, United Nations)

If an international agency introduces a devastating disease to a country, should it be held accountable?

That’s the big question at the heart of a court proceeding that gets underway next Thursday. The international agency is the United Nations. The disease is cholera. And the nation is Haiti.

Four years ago this month, thousands of Haitians downstream from a U.N. peacekeeping encampment began falling ill and dying from cholera, a disease not previously seen in Haiti for at least a century.

Since then cholera has sickened one in every 14 Haitians — more than 700,000 people; and over 8,000 have died. That’s nearly twice the official death count from Ebola in West Africa thus far.

A year ago, a Boston-based human rights group sued the U.N. for bringing cholera to Haiti through infected peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where the disease was circulating at the time. The U.N. camp spilled its sewage directly into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river.

Brian Concannon of the IJDH says the U.N.’s immunity is limited. He says it’s supposed to have a mechanism to compensate those injured by its actions – which might cover such things as sexual assault by peacekeeping troops, or property damage, as well as the introduction of lethal diseases.

That mechanism is called a Standing Claims Commission, which would resolve disputes over damage claims.

“The U.N. has never set up a Standing Claims Commission in 60 years of peacekeeping missions,” Concannon said in an interview.

His group petitioned the U.N. in 2012 to set up such a commission to address cholera claims. But as the secretary-general’s spokesman says, the U.N. found those claims “not receivable,” which provoked the current lawsuit.

Despite the opposition of the U.S. government, Concannon says he’s optimistic. For one thing, Judge Oetken didn’t have to schedule a hearing at all. “The safe route for the judge would be to say, ‘I’m going to defer to the government and dismiss the case,’” Concannon says. “The fact he granted our request for a hearing is a sign the court is taking this seriously.”

Click HERE for the full text.

Contact IJDH

Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti
15 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116

Telephone: (617) 652-0876
General Inquiries: info@ijdh.org
Media Inquiries: media@ijdh.org

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