This article outlines the cholera epidemic in Haiti in terms of the advocacy around justice for the victims and our accompanying lawsuit in U.S. courts. After years of downplaying its responsibility for causing the epidemic and dodging accountability, then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon finally apologized to Haitians on December 1, 2016. The UN also promised a new $400 million plan to address the epidemic and provide material assistance to the victims but more remains to be done: The money needs to truly be made available while consultations with the victims occur to ensure that their needs are finally met. The UN must take better precautions to ensure that something similar doesn’t happen again in the future. And the UN must accept legal responsibility for the epidemic, as a means to ensure that justice will finally be served.
Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.
UNstoppable: How Advocates Persevered in the Fight for Justice for Haitian Cholera Victims
Adam Houston, Health and Human Rights Journal
February 18, 2017
In 2016, December 1st—already an occasion to highlight the importance of health and human rights as World AIDS Day—took on new significance as a landmark in one of the highest-profile health and human rights cases of the 21st century. This was the day that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon finally issued an apology on behalf of the organization for its role in causing the Haitian cholera epidemic that has claimed close to 10,000 lives and made another 800,000 fall ill.1 This simple apology is something that victims of the epidemic have been waiting to hear for years, ever since cholera-infected feces from a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) peacekeeping base were allowed to enter the river system relied on by tens of thousands of Haitians back in October 2010. That the apology took this long to receive highlights the struggles that advocates continue to face in getting the UN to make things right for victims of the epidemic.
Haitians devastated by cholera—through their own illness or the deaths of breadwinners and loved ones—first petitioned the UN for remedies in November 2011, a year after the epidemic began. The obligation to provide remedies for “personal injury, illness or death arising from or directly attributed to MINUSTAH” is explicitly contemplated in the Status of Forces Agreement between the UN and the government of Haiti, itself rooted in the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN), which makes the mandatory settlement of claims a reciprocal duty in exchange for broad immunity from suit in court.2 Nonetheless, the UN did not dignify the request with a response until 15 months had gone by, at which point the request was tersely dismissed on the grounds that it was “not receivable” since “consideration of these claims would necessarily include a review of political and policy matters.”3 No explanation was given as to how negligent sanitation was a political or policy matter, or how the injuries suffered by Haitians differed from others the UN has compensated as a matter of course in the past.