Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

IJDH Submits Briefing on Cholera Justice to High-Level Panel on UN Peacekeeping

IJDH has submitted a briefing to the UN’s Independent High-Level Panel on Peace Operations. The Panel was appointed by the UN Secretary General in October 2014 to review and propose reforms of all UN Peacekeeping operations. The briefing submitted by IJDH discusses Haiti’s cholera epidemic in the context of the broader credibility and accountability issues impacting UN peace operations. The briefing highlights that UN accountability for the cholera epidemic presents both one of the most critical human rights challenges and greatest credibility crises facing UN peacekeeping today. IJDH urged the panel to meaningfully address the UN’s response to the epidemic to date, and the broader accountability and human rights issues it raises for global peacekeeping.

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HAITI’S CHOLERA EPIDEMIC AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR UN PEACEKEEPING

For Consideration by the UN High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations

In announcing the appointment of the UN High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon aptly noted that UN peacekeeping operations must adapt to a changing world in order to remain a critical tool in promoting and advancing international peace. This Panel is tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of peacekeeping with an eye toward issues challenging the current peacekeeping apparatus, including peace-building, human rights, and accountability.1 In light of this mandate, the following briefing and accompanying recommendations discuss Haiti’s cholera epidemic in the context of the broader credibility and accountability issues impacting UN peace operations. UN accountability for the cholera epidemic presents both one of the most critical human rights challenges and greatest credibility crises facing UN peacekeeping today. As such, we urge the Panel to meaningfully address the UN’s response to the epidemic to date, and the broader accountability and human rights issues it raises for global peacekeeping.

BACKGROUND: UN RESPONSIBILITY FOR CHOLERA IN HAITI

Cholera appeared in Haiti in October 2010 for the first time in the country’s recorded history.2 To date, the epidemic has killed over 8,700 people and sickened over 720,000 others (about 7% of the population), making it the worst cholera epidemic of modern times. 3 Genetic and epidemiological studies have established that cholera was brought to Haiti by a UN peacekeeping contingent from Nepal, where cholera is endemic. 4 The soldiers were stationed at a UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) base where improper sanitation practices resulted in untreated sewage entering into the Meye Tributary. This tributary flows into Haiti’s principal river system, 5 upon which tens of thousands of Haitians rely for drinking, washing and farming.

A panel of experts appointed by the Secretary-General to determine the origins of cholera in Haiti has repeatedly identified MINUSTAH as “the most likely source.” 6 In a report released in 2011, the panel documented that the pipes on the MINUSTAH base were “haphazard, with significant potential for crosscontamination…” and that the base routinely disposed of untreated fecal waste in unprotected, open air pits dug directly into the ground that created a serious risk of overflow.7 The experts concluded that the “evidence overwhelmingly supports” that “the outbreak was caused by bacteria introduced into Haiti as a result of human activity; more specifically by the contamination of the Meye Tributary System” with a South Asian strain of cholera.8 Subsequent genetic studies presented “irrefutable molecular evidence” that the strain of cholera in Haiti is identical to the one in Nepal. 9 In March 2013, the panelists released a second report clarifying their findings in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence, specifying that “the preponderance of the evidence and the weight of the circumstantial evidence does lead to the conclusion that personnel associated with the Mirebalais MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.”10 Former President Bill Clinton, while serving as UN Special Envoy to Haiti, publicly acknowledged that UN troops were the “proximate cause” of the epidemic.11

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