FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Following UN Admission of Responsibility for Haiti Cholera, U.S. Appeals Court Upholds UN Immunity
Thursday August 18, Port-au-Prince, Boston, New York— In a decision released late today by the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court upheld the United Nations’ immunity from claims filed on behalf of Haitian cholera victims. The decision concerned whether the UN’s alleged breach of obligations to settle claims out of court constituted a condition precedent to its immunity, such that the UN would not be able to claim immunity in court unless it offered another way for victims to seek a remedy.
The decision, authored by Judge Cabranes, held that the UN’s immunity from judicial process was not conditional on its obligation under Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations to provide individuals harmed by UN operations access to an “appropriate mode to settle claims.” The Court wrote: “…we hold that the UN’s fulfillment of its Section 29 obligation is not a condition precedent to its Section 2 immunity.”
The highly technical legal decision comes less than a day after the UN publicly admitted responsibility for its role in the cholera outbreak and acknowledged it needed to “do much more to address the suffering of those affected.” The UN announced that it will be rolling out a “significant set of new actions” to address cholera in Haiti in the coming two months. The announcement marks a significant shift for the world organization, which for the past six years has refused to acknowledge responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti in 2010 though reckless waste disposal from a UN peacekeeping base. Cholera has since killed more than 9,300 Haitians and infected more 800,000, making it the worst cholera epidemic of modern times.
“We are disappointed that the Court upheld the dismissal of the case, but this only reinforces our commitment to keep fighting for justice for victims,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), which has been advocating for justice for cholera victims since 2011. “This outcome places the onus back on the UN to follow through on its commitments to respond justly to victims out of court if it does not want to be an organization that stands for impunity.”
According to Beatrice Lindstrom, Esq. of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), “the UN has repeatedly used pending litigation as a pretext for avoiding a real discussion of remedies. This decision removes that pretext, and we are ready to work with the UN to ensure that it follows through on its commitment to a ‘new response’ to the Haiti cholera crisis that reaches ‘those who are still affected but also…those who were affected in the past’.”
IJDH filed the class action lawsuit against the UN in October 2013 in the Southern District of New York on behalf of five Haitians and Haitian-Americans whose family members died of the disease or who were infected but managed to survive life-threatening cholera.
Plaintiffs now have 90 days to decide whether to seek an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. “We will decide how to proceed based on whether the UN’s actions fulfill the cholera victims’ rights to an effective remedy,” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Director of IJDH. “Our goal has always been to secure remedies for victims, whether in or out of court and we will keep working through all available forums until that occurs.”