FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UN Chief Issues Historic Statement on Haiti Cholera, As Experts Call For A Robust UN Response to Victims
New York, September 21, 2016 – Before a gathering of the world’s leaders yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used his opening statement to the UN General Assembly to acknowledge the tremendous suffering wrought by cholera and commit to ‘a new approach’ that would fulfill the UN’s obligations to Haitians. The Secretary-General also vowed to return to the General Assembly with more details, expected next month.
“This statement by the Secretary-General during his final address to the General Assembly affirms the UN’s significant shift in position on the Haiti cholera issue after six years of denial and stonewalling, and is a victory for the Haitian cholera victims and advocates worldwide who have brought the UN to this point,” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which has been advocating for justice for cholera victims since 2011.
The statement comes one month after the world body finally acknowledged its role in bringing a devastating cholera epidemic to Haiti in October 2010 that has killed at least 9,300 people and sickened over 800,000. Since the acknowledgement, victims, advocates and experts have repeatedly implored the UN to follow the announcement with concrete steps that meet victims’ rights. Yesterday, United States Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote to the Secretary-General to urge him to provide “the material resources necessary to end the threat of cholera and financial assistance to the victims and their families…”
On Monday, more than 40 former UN officials, experts in international law, human rights and public health sent a letter to the Secretariat calling for a robust and human rights based UN response to cholera victims.
“In order to discharge its duties to victims, the Secretariat must build on its acceptance of responsibility through concrete actions [that] include a public apology, compensation for victims, and full funding for cholera elimination. Moreover, the process must be inclusive and transparent, and involve participation of Haitians throughout,” the letter reads.
In Haiti, victims joined together in a joyous but determined protest outside the UN’s Port-au-Prince base, calling for compensation, a public apology, and elimination of the disease that continues to kill in Haiti. The victims also called on the Haitian President to publicly support these demands in his address to the General Assembly on Friday, September 23.
“The Secretary-General must still address Haitians directly and provide a full accounting of the UN’s responsibility for cholera, and apologize for its refusal to engage with victims and their demands for years following the outbreak”, said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, who is a lead advocate for victims of cholera.
“It is also critical that the UN provides compensation to the victims who have lost loved ones and breadwinners, and who suffered immense pain and hardship as a result of cholera,” Joseph added.
Attention will now turn to the elaboration of the UN’s new response package. Victims and advocates are calling for a transparent process and victim-centered approach, including consultations with affected communities, as well as the robust financing necessary to support both financial compensation to victims and effective cholera elimination efforts.
Unofficial transcription of the Secretary-General’s Statement:
The outbreak of cholera in Haiti shortly after a devastating earthquake heaped misery upon misery. I feel tremendous regret and sorrow for the profound suffering of Haitians affected by cholera. The time has come for a new approach to ease their plight and better their lives. This is a firm and enduring moral responsibility. We are now developing a package of material assistance to those most directly affected, and intensifying efforts to build sound water, sanitation, and health systems—the best long-term defense against the disease.
This work cannot succeed without strong political and financial support from member states. I will return to this assembly with further details. Let us work together to meet our obligations to the Haitian people.