FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UN Human Rights Experts Demand Access to Justice for Victims of UN Cholera in Haiti
Human Rights Groups Welcome Mounting Pressure from UN Insiders
March 3, 2016 – Five UN-appointed human rights experts have sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, arguing that the UN’s rejection of Haitian cholera victims’ claims for remedies “undermines the reputation of the [UN], 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.”
“The UN’s own experts are challenging the Secretary General to live up to the organization’s founding principles,” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which represents the cholera victims. “This is an opportunity for Secretary Ban to choose between a legacy of honoring accountability and human rights or a legacy of squandering credibility and causing preventable, avoidable death.”
The Special Rapporteurs’ forceful admonition of the UN’s refusal to provide remedies to cholera victims was made public on February 25, 2016. It was signed jointly by Philip Alston (Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty), Dainius Pūras (Special Rapporteur on the right to health) Léo Heller (Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation), Gustavo Gallón (Independent Expert on human rights in Haiti), and Leilani Farha (Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing). One of the key roles of these Special Rapporteurs is to send allegation letters to states that are not fulfilling their obligations under human rights law. It is exceptional for Special Rapporteurs to file letters against the UN Secretary-General for allegations of rights violations by the organization itself.
The public release of the letter coincided with a last-minute decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to hold oral argument in the litigation brought against the UN by victims of cholera. The hearing took place in a packed courtroom at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in New York on March 1, 2016. The judges peppered both sides with questions, including questioning the U.S. Government extensively on both its own and the UN’s inaction on out-of-court remedies.
The five UN experts reminded the organization that under international human rights law, victims are entitled to a remedy for the harm caused by the UN’s introduction of cholera into Haiti. They find that the UN’s rejection of the cholera claims on the basis of ‘non-receivability’ is “problematic” and “difficult to reconcile with the United Nations’ commitment to promote and encourage respect for human rights.” Their position echoes the statements of then-High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, and of former high-level UN officials who filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals.
“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 in the lawsuit. “If the UN won’t respect human rights in the vulnerable countries that host peacekeeping missions, who will?”
Seeking access to justice has been a protracted fight for cholera victims, who first sought to have their claims heard by the UN in November 2011. According to the UN experts, “it is essential that the victims of cholera have access to a transparent, independent and impartial mechanism that can review their claims and decide on the merits of those claims in order to ensure adequate reparation, including restitution, compensation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.”
In addition to addressing the right of the cholera victims to a fair hearing and remedy for their harm, the experts also note that the UN’s attempts to eradicate cholera in Haiti, and mobilize funding for that purpose, “appears to be clearly insufficient.” The UN cholera epidemic in Haiti is the worst single-country cholera epidemic of modern times, with more than 753,000 documented cases, and more than 9,000 deaths. The UN’s eradication plan remains drastically underfunded, while cholera continues to kill an average of 37 Haitians per month.