FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, firstname.lastname@example.org; +1-617-652-0876 (Interviews available in English, French & Kreyòl)
Cholera Victims’ Fight for Justice Reaches Appeals Court
U.S. Court of Appeals reviews UN’s immunity claims
(New York City, March 1, 2016)—The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York today considered Georges v. United Nations, the case of the victims of the deadly cholera epidemic brought to Haiti by UN troops. In a promising development, the Court announced on February 25 that it would hold an oral hearing. The hearing will evaluate the cholera victims’ claims that the UN lost its immunity in the case when it refused to fulfill its obligations to provide victims with an alternate mechanism for justice.
Brian Concannon, Executive Director for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which represents the cholera victims in their U.S. lawsuit, noted that “today’s hearing means that that the judges are looking carefully at the UN’s attempt to expand its immunity beyond anything previously recognized by courts in the US or anywhere else.”
Georges v. United Nations was filed in October 2013, against the United Nations (UN), the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and former head of MINUSTAH Edmond Mulet, for recklessly introducing cholera to Haiti in 2010. Since its introduction, the epidemic has killed over 9,000 people and infected over 800,000.
The UN has refused to appear in the case, but the U.S. Department of Justice asked the District Court to dismiss the case on the grounds of the UN’s immunity based on Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN). The District Court ordered the case dismissed in January 2015. The cholera victims appealed, asserting that the UN cannot benefit from the immunity under the CPIUN unless it complies with its own obligations under Section 29 of the CPIUN to provide alternate mechanisms for justice.
“Immunity is a two-way street,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, IJDH Staff Attorney, who argued the case for the victims at the hearing. “The UN does not seriously deny that it brought cholera to Haiti and its own documents declare that it has an obligation to provide justice to people injured by UN activities. The UN’s position is that nothing can compel it to comply with its undeniable legal obligations.”
“It is outrageous that the UN—which receives billions of taxpayer dollars to promote the rule of law—is holding itself above any law,” said Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, the lead lawyer for the cholera victims. “This impunity is literally killing us.”
In support of the appeal, 86 scholars, Haitian-American leaders, human rights experts, and former UN officials submitted six legal briefs in June 2015. In July 2015, 154 Haitian-American leaders and organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding UN accountability. On December 10, UN Human Rights Day, cholera victims and their families delivered thousands of letters to the UN also demanding justice.
“The UN lectures Haitians about accountability, then incongruously refuses to submit itself to the rule of law,” said Attorney Emmanuel Coffy, Counsel for Haitian-American organizations that filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the appeal. “This hypocrisy deprives the UN of any credibility to promote the rule of law in Haiti.”
“The UN’s response to the Haiti cholera victims baffles and disappoints the human rights community,” added Baher Azmy, Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents amicus curiae human rights organizations. “If the UN won’t respect human rights in the vulnerable countries that host peacekeeping missions, who will?”
In a letter made public in February 2016, four UN Special Rapporteurs and a UN Independent Expert noted that the UN response to the cholera case has resulted in “the inability of the victims of the cholera outbreak to vindicate their rights and to obtain access to a remedy for the harms suffered to which human rights law entitles them.” The UN human rights experts warned that the UN’s hiding behind immunity to deprive the victims of a chance at justice “undermines the reputation of the United Nations, calls into question the ethical framework within which its peace-keeping forces operate, and challenges the credibility of the Organization as an entity that respects human rights.”
For more information, including legal documents and background materials, see http://www.ijdh.org/advocacies/our-work/cholera-advocacy/