FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UN Admits Responsibility for Haiti Cholera
Advocates Hail Major Breakthrough, But Commit to Continued Advocacy
Thursday August 18, Port-au-Prince, Boston, New York —For the first time in the six years since it brought the world’s worst cholera epidemic to Haiti, the United Nations has publicly admitted its role in causing the outbreak. In a statement released today, the UN Spokesperson recognized the need for the organization to do “much more regarding its own involvement in the [cholera] outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.”
“In Haiti we say ‘viktwa se pou pep la’ — victory is for the people. This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which has led a campaign for justice and reparations for victims of cholera since 2011.
The UN also announced that it will be rolling out a “significant set of new actions” in the coming two months, and that “a series of options have been under consideration.” The Spokesperson added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.”
“This is a groundbreaking first step towards justice,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Esq., of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which has filed a lawsuit against the UN for the reckless sanitation practices that caused the epidemic. “But promises will not stop cholera’s killing or compensate for the damage to poor families in Haiti. The real test is in what comes next. The UN must follow this announcement with action, including issuing a public apology, establishing a plan to provide compensation to the victims who have lost so much, and ensuring that cholera is eliminated in Haiti through robust investment in water and sanitation infrastructure. We will keep fighting until it does.”
“We welcome this announcement, but the UN must ensure that the victims have a central voice in this process,” added Joseph.
The acknowledgment follows a six year global campaign that has brought together cholera victims, Haitian grassroots groups such as MOLEGHAF, activists worldwide, legal experts,human rights and civil society groups, Haitian diaspora organizations, community and political leaders, scientists, academics and media around the world, as well as many of the UN’s own human rights experts, in calling for a just response.
“This is also a victory for people around the world who believe in a United Nations that practices what it preaches on human rights,” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Directory of IJDH. “The UN’s previous denials of responsibility have left an enormous stain on the organization’s credibility and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s legacy.”
The UN’s announcement was made in response to a critical report by prominent UN adviser Philip Alston, one of several UN-appointed human rights experts who have used their positions to call for a just response from the organization since 2014.
According to the New York Times, the report, which has not yet been publicly released, chastises the UN for a position that “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”
This development comes amidst a new report by the UN’s audit office showing that the UN was still discarding contaminated waste into Haitian waterways as recently as June 2015.
“It is high time for the UN to make this right and prove to the world that “human rights for all” means for Haitians too,” said Joseph.