FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti; email@example.com, 617-652-0876.
UN Panel Says Peacekeeper Immunity Cannot Equal Impunity
Report Fails to Address Haiti Cholera, While Chair Separately Calls for Compensation
(New York, June 23, 2015) — On Monday, June 22, a High-Level Independent Panel appointed to review and propose reforms in UN peacekeeping publicly released its final report. The report calls for overhauls in the peacekeeping system, noting that UN peace operations suffer from “chronic challenges”. Despite the mounting accountability crisis facing UN peacekeeping and prior assurances by the Panel Chair that it would issue recommendations to respond to the UN’s accountability failures in Haiti, the panel did not propose reforms that address continued UN impunity for cholera in Haiti.
“The UN’s lack of accountability for cholera in Haiti represents one of the greatest credibility crises facing UN peacekeeping today. The Panel’s failure to even mention it in its 111-page report is an inexcusable continuation of the UN’s policy of silence on cholera,” said Kathrine Garrison, Program Associate, Mennonite Central Committee.
The Panel did issue recommendations for enhancing accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). While the Panel emphasized that “immunity must not mean impunity,” it did not extend that principle to harms suffered by individuals outside of the SEA context, despite the well-documented deficiencies in its civil claims system.
The Panel’s lack of recommendations on impunity in other contexts is particularly notable in light of prior commitments to address the issue. At a November 20, 2014, press conference, Panel Chair and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate José Ramos-Horta called the question of UN accountability for cholera in Haiti “absolutely legitimate.” Ramos-Horta told the media that the issue would be taken into consideration in the Panel’s discussions and recommendations, stating, “Human beings, human lives were lost…We cannot just gloss over [it].” Yet the final report makes no mention of the issue.
On June 16, Ramos-Horta notably told the press that peacekeepers were responsible for the introduction of cholera to Haiti. Ramos-Horta then drew an analogy with a case in Timor Leste in which a Brazilian peacekeeper caused the death of a child, and the family was duly offered an apology and compensation. “This is how we expect people working under the UN flag to behave,” Ramos-Horta stated.
Ramos-Horta also emphasized the need for the international community to come together and address the issue of remedies for the victims of cholera in Haiti.
“The Panel’s silence on the cholera situation in its final report is striking in this context, since the cholera case entails ongoing, systemic failures of the type the Panel was commissioned to examine,” said Meg Satterthwaite, Director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, which advocates for international organization accountability in Haiti.
The UN’s responsibility for the cholera epidemic has brought to light severe deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system that reach far beyond Haiti. In 2012, researchers at Yale University found that the UN has signed 32 binding treaties agreeing to establish claims commissions to provide a fair hearing for victims of peacekeeping abuses, yet no such commission has ever been created.
“The problem of UN impunity is not limited to sexual abuse. Civilians who are injured by UN peacekeepers have nowhere to turn for justice. They can’t file claims with the commissions because the UN won’t establish them, and when victims turn to the courts, the UN asserts immunity,” explained Joseph Champagne, Chair of the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON).
The Panel’s report does call on the UN to carry out periodic environmental impact assessments of peace operations.
“Reducing the risk of future harms from peacekeeping is commendable,” said Brian Concannon Jr., Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and lawyer for the cholera victims of cholera. “But it does nothing for the families of the over 9,000 people already killed or for the 720,000 sickened by UN cholera, and it will not stop the cholera from attacking thousands more each year.”
The High-Level Panel was appointed in October 2014 to undertake a comprehensive review of all aspects of peacekeeping, including an examination of the impact its operations have on civilians and the infringement of human rights. It is the first independent review of peacekeeping in fifteen years.
Numerous civil society groups have urged the Panel to address accountability for cholera in its report on several occasions over the past seven months. A submission provided to the panel, which spells out the deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system, is available here.
 This communication does not purport to represent the institutional views, if any, of NYU.