Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic Comes to US Court

This article describes the cholera epidemic in Haiti, as well as the October 23 oral arguments on the question of UN immunity. It also compares the cholera epidemic to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, both of which are exacerbated (or even allowed) by poverty. Ebola is very difficult to combat but cholera is, fortunately, easy to fight and prevent. What would help most is the UN taking responsibility for the epidemic it caused and helping Haiti build the water and sanitation infrastructure it needs to be cholera-free.

An excerpt is below. Click HERE for the full text.

There’s an Epidemic on Trial in New York — But It’s Not Ebola

Lauren Carasik, VICE News
October 27, 2014

The UN has declined to appear in court on its own behalf. Instead, Assistant US Attorney Ellen Blain argued that as both the host nation to the UN and a party to treaties governing UN affairs, the US is obligated to respond on the UN’s behalf. Blain urged the judge to dismiss the case on the grounds of absolute immunity, claiming that allowing the case to go forward would open the floodgates for suits against the UN that would impair its ability to advance its mission.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti argued that the immunity conferred by the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations depends on the provision of an appropriate settlement mechanism for private law claims, which the UN has not done. Moreover, the UN committed to set up a Standing Claims Commission in its Status of Forces Agreement with Haiti. It has not. Victims’ lawyers point out that they are asking for a narrow ruling of liability, based on the egregious facts of this case alone: the catastrophe unleashed by the UN and its refusal to provide any forum for victims to seek a remedy. Impunity, advocates argued, does not advance the UN’s role in fostering peace and upholding the rule of law.

Judge J. Paul Oetken engaged with both sides, evincing a nuanced understanding of the issues and the stakes involved. But he cautioned that the plaintiffs had “a steep hill to climb,” citing previous decisions by the court in upholding the UN’s immunity. As Yale Law School’s Muneer Ahmad lamented, “Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them.” A ruling could take months.


Click HERE for the full text.

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