Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haitian Cholera Victims Need Access to Justice

This article describes in detail the origin of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, the UN’s failure to provide the victims justice since the epidemic began in 2010, and the litigation that is trying to force the UN to be accountable for its (in)actions. At the center of all this is the demand that UN immunity not be treated as impunity.

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Access to Justice for Victims of Cholera in Haiti: Accountability for U.N. Torts in U.S. Court

Beatrice Lindstrom, Shannon Jonsson, and Gillian Stoddard Leatherberry; Boston University’s International Law Journal
November 3, 2014

As the human costs of a lack of U.N. accountability grow, the international community, including U.N. insiders, is beginning to recognize that in some cases immunity should give way to the need for accountability from an otherwise untouchable institution. Former U.N. Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis has taken the view that:

immunity should not be blanket; it should not be wholesale. There are instances where immunity should be lifted, and what happened in Haiti is one of those instances. . . . I don’t think [liability] would compromise the UN. In fact, I think it would do the UN a lot of good to be seen as principled in the face of having caused so much devastation.[66]

Numerous other human rights experts affiliated with the U.N. have also spoken out publicly in favor of U.N. accountability for the cholera epidemic, including former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay,[67] U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water Catarina de Albuquerque,[68] and U.N. Independent Expert on Human Rights in Haiti Gustavo Gallón,[69] among others.[70]

The cholera case is not the only situation in which U.N. immunity has recently come under scrutiny.[71] An abundance of questions regarding the reputation of the United Nations have arisen in other contexts, including instances of egregious sexual violence perpetrated by U.N. peacekeepers.[72] Together, these concerns amount to a credibility crisis for the organization.[73]  Ultimately, enforcing a balanced interpretation of U.N. immunity when the organization harms innocent bystanders will render it stronger as an institution, and reinforce its legitimacy as a bastion of international human rights.


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