FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti; email@example.com, 617-652-0876
Everyone Tells UN To Fulfill Its Legal Obligations to Haiti Cholera Victims
United Nations Faces Pervasive Condemnation of Refusal to Comply With International Law
(Boston and New York, June 4, 2015)— A multitude of leading scholars, human rights experts, Haitian-American leaders and former United Nations officials throughout the world submitted six legal briefs yesterday, each opposing the UN’s attempt to expand its immunity in United States Courts. The briefs, called amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs, were submitted to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in support of another brief filed last week by lawyers for the victims of the UN cholera in Haiti. The victims seek justice for the epidemic triggered by waste discharged into Haiti’s environment from a faulty sewage system at a UN base. The epidemic has killed 9,000 Haitians and sickened over 700,000 since it began in 2010.
A brief filed by eleven Haitian-American organizations expressed the outrage felt by Haitians in Haiti and abroad over the UN’s hiding behind immunity while Haitians die by the thousands. “Providing immunity in this case rewards the UN for refusing to honor its obligations and acting in bad faith,” said Emmanuel Coffy Esq., counsel for the Haitian groups. Soeurette Michel of the Haitian Lawyers Association and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition added “the facts are there, the laws are there and all we want is to have the laws apply to the facts correctly so the victims and their families find relief.” Marleine Bastien of Haitian Women of Miami promised that “Haitians are determined to keep fighting to hold the UN to its principles. We will stop fighting for justice when the UN cholera stops killing Haitians unjustly.”
A brief filed by six former senior UN officials explains that the UN’s unjust response to its cholera epidemic has created an accountability crisis that threatens the organization’s legitimacy, credibility and ability to fulfill its mission. “The UN calls the Haiti cholera victims’ fight for justice a threat”, said Stephen Lewis, a former Deputy Director of UNICEF and current Co-Director of AIDS Free World, who signed the brief. “But the UN can make this lawsuit disappear by establishing a claims commission. The real threat to the UN here is its misguided refusal to comply with its own principles.”
A brief filed by twenty-four human and civil rights organizations from thirteen countries explains that the UN, which was created by international law and is bound by it, cannot legally avoid its obligation to provide Haiti’s cholera victims a right to a remedy for the harms they suffered. “The United Nations should demonstrate its commitment to the rule of international law by obeying its dictates,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, which signed the brief. “It is time for the UN to fulfill its obligations to the people of Haiti, who have suffered so much.”
A brief filed by twenty-two international law scholars and practitioners noted that the cholera victims’ claims are classic “private law” claims, for which the UN has long conceded an obligation to provide a remedy. The brief explains why the case does not involve the UN’s “operational necessity” exception to this obligation. The brief cites “decades of organizational statements and institutional practice [that] confirm that the UN is obliged to provide a means of redress for claims such as those of Plaintiffs.”
Sixteen European legal experts point out in their brief that European courts balance an international organization’s immunity protection with victims’ right of access to remedies for their injuries. According to Krister Thelin, an ad hoc Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, former Judge of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and member of the UN Human Rights Committee, “in Europe, UN immunity is important, but not unlimited. Courts require the UN and other organizations to provide reasonable alternative means for adversely affected individuals to seek remedies. And the reason is obvious: absence of remedies undermines the UN ´s very role as a champion of human rights.”
Six prominent professors of United States Constitutional Law signed a brief explaining how the application of absolute immunity in this case, without any justification, violates the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights to access courts. One of these experts, Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law, stated that “access to the courts is a fundamental aspect of due process of law. This case is about whether those who suffered and died as a result of the cholera epidemic in Haiti have a right to be heard in a court of law. It is essential that the courts uphold and vindicate this basic liberty.”
These briefs join a host of people and organizations that have called for the UN to be accountable for its cholera in Haiti, including UN Human Rights Experts, members of the U.S. Congress, editorial boards and legal groups. The UN, for its part, does not seriously contest that it brought cholera to Haiti or that it has a responsibility to the victims. Instead, it maintains that no court can force it to comply with its obligations, because of its immunity. The UN also claims that it is doing everything it can to fight the epidemic. The organization’s cholera response plan, first announced in 2012, is 9% funded.
Beatrice Lindstrom of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, a lawyer for the cholera victims, said the outpouring of support for the victims’ fight for justice shows that “no person is so disempowered as to fall below the law’s protections; no organization is so prestigious as to rise above the law’s obligations.
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