July 8, 2015
Open Letter from the Haitian-American Community to UN Secretary-General Ban and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Cholera in Haiti
Dear Secretary-General Ban and Secretary Kerry,
We are writing as members of the Haitian-American community to express our deep outrage at the United Nations’ failure to take responsibility for the cholera epidemic it brought to Haiti. We are especially troubled by the dismissal of Georges et al v. United Nations et al., a lawsuit brought by cholera victims seeking a just UN response, and the continued refusal by the UN to provide remedies to the victims out of court. The UN should not be permitted to evade accountability on this issue. It is imperative for the U.S. government to ensure the UN complies with its legal obligations to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control cholera and compensate the victims.
Cholera has killed over 8,900 Haitians and sickened over 730,000 since its introduction into Haiti in October 2010. Every week 630 people are infected and seven are killed. We have lost family and friends to cholera, and we live with the threat of losing more of our loved ones. We also continue to fear for our community, as Haitian-Americans visiting family in Haiti are among those who have contracted the disease and died. Our community has also taken on significant financial burdens due to cholera, as we support our relatives’ funeral expenses, health care costs, and school fees for children orphaned by the epidemic.
Overwhelming and conclusive evidence—from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, world-renowned universities and the UN’s own Independent Panel of Experts— establishes, in the words of former US President Bill Clinton, that UN peacekeeping troops were “the proximate cause of cholera.” The UN’s refusal to take responsibility despite this evidence has led a growing number of world leaders and concerned citizens—including current and former UN officials such as former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and former UNICEF Deputy Director Stephen Lewis, over 100 members of the U.S. Congress, the Haitian Senate, and thousands of Haitian activists—to join our calls for justice. As U.S. Congressman John Conyers recently remarked, the UN’s handling of the crisis has become “a stain on the world’s conscience.”
The dismissal of Georges et al v. UN compounds the crisis. We regret the UN sought to evade responsibility in the case by relying on unprecedented, broad interpretations of its international agreements, and the United States government chose to assert that position in court. This position is inconsistent with the victims’ right to access court. The court’s decision makes it imperative that the UN heed the most recent calls of 77 members of U.S. Congress to immediately establish a fair and impartial settlement mechanism for the victims.
We find the UN’s response that it is “focusing on water and sanitation” disingenuous. In over four years, the UN has raised only 13% of the funds needed for its plan to eliminate cholera, while it has spent much more over that time on soldiers in Haiti. Moreover, improved access to water and sanitation, though an essential component of any comprehensive response to the cholera epidemic, is not a sufficient solution. Victims must also have access to remedies for the physical, emotional, and financial injuries they have suffered. Further, the UN must formally admit responsibility for this disaster.
The UN mission in Haiti has spent over $2.5 billion in the last four years, much of it from U.S. taxpayers, with a primary mandate of promoting the rule of law. The mission’s refusal to comply with its legal obligations to Haiti’s cholera victims denies it the credibility necessary to effectively promote the rule of law in Haiti. It also sets a dangerous example about the ability of the powerful to avoid justice, which will come back to haunt Haitians.
We are committed to advocating for the cholera victims until they obtain justice, and urge you to take immediate action to ensure that victims of cholera receive a just response.
(Click HERE for the list of organizations, and pdf of the letter.)