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Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (New York and Boston): firstname.lastname@example.org, +617-652- 0876
Victims & Advocates Commend Announcement of New UN Haiti Cholera Response
Secretary-General Issues Historic Apology to Victims
(NEW YORK, PORT-AU-PRINCE, December 1, 2016)–Advocates for cholera victims in Haiti welcome the announcement of a new UN response that promises to reduce cholera in Haiti and provide material assistance to the most affected victims. The plan pledges to place victims at its center and to involve them in the developments of the details of the plan. The Secretary-General also apologized to Haitian victims, saying that the UN “simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti” and “we are profoundly sorry for our role.”
The advocates called the Secretary-General’s apology “a crucial step towards justice for the Haitian people.” The statement was broadcast on national television in Haiti, and victims watching the statement in Haiti at the office of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which has pursued legal claims for the cholera against the UN, broke into spontaneous applause when they heard it.
“This was a victory for us today. It wasn’t easy. We sent thousands of letters and were in the street to get this victory for them to say today that they were responsible,” said Desir Jean-Clair from Boucan Care, who is a cholera survivor and whose mother died from cholera. “They said that and we thank them. But it can’t end here. Because today there is still cholera in the whole country,” he added.
“This marks a remarkable shift in the UN’s response, and is a major victory in the cholera victims’ six-year long struggle for compensation, cholera treatment and elimination, and an apology,” said Brian Concannon, Jr., a lawyer for victims and Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “Victims have demanded justice from the streets of Port-au-Prince to the courts of New York, and finally they are being heard.”
Cholera has killed over 9,300 people and sickened over 753,000 since UN peacekeepers introduced it to Haiti by discharging untreated human waste into Haiti’s largest river in 2010. Cholera continues to kill at an alarming rate. If the new response is effectively implemented, it is expected to save hundreds of lives and alleviate suffering for tens of thousands of families in Haiti.
The new plan is set out in a report by the Secretary-General. Lawyers for victims particularly welcomed the material assistance component of the plan. “Compensation for the injuries suffered is critical to start making victims whole,” said Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom, who led the IJDH legal team. “Our clients have lost breadwinners and gone into debt to pay for funeral costs. Children have been pulled from school when cholera-stricken families could no longer afford the fees. Cholera has been crushing in so many ways, and it is promising that victims will now have an opportunity to weigh in on how this assistance can best be provided. It is critical that Member States recognize the importance of this initiative and provide support for it.”
Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney for the BAI, noted that “Today the UN took a step towards restoring its reputation and its leadership in promoting the rule of law. It is now time for the international community, especially UN Member States, to demonstrate their commitment to justice and fighting disease by providing the resources necessary to make these promises a reality.”
“What we want is for [the UN] to come and sit down with us so that we can tell them what we need. We have suffered so much, people who died people who still have cholera in their blood and are still suffering. They need to compensate us properly” said Leon Paul, who survived cholera and follows today’s historic address from the BAI’s office in Port-au-Prince.
This victory for justice was the product of an unprecedented advocacy network, that brought together cholera victims, grassroots activists in Haiti and abroad, Haitian-Americans, international media, academics, members of the U.S. Congress, doctors, filmmakers, human rights groups,UN Member States and eventually the UN’s own human rights apparatus.The network’s persistent advocacy forced the UN to confront the gap between its principles of promoting the rule of law and fighting disease, and its practices of refusing to comply with its legal obligations to the victims. The network has allowed the victims of cholera to directly command the attention of the world through protests, short video, letter-writing and photography.
“I salute everyone here and the General Assembly and we accept the declaration that [the Secretary-General] made… We’re moving forward but we’re not finished. We want eradication and compensation. So we’re asking Haitians everywhere all over the world to mobilize peacefully and join with us,” said Jean-Charles August, a teacher from Petit-Goâve.