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One Year After UN Apology, Cholera Victims Call Out Unfulfilled Promises
(Boston, Port-au-Prince, December 1, 2017) – On the one year anniversary of the UN’s historic apology for its role in sparking Haiti’s devastating cholera epidemic, victims appealed to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to follow through on commitments made last year to end cholera transmission and provide remedies. Victims also plan to gather in peaceful protest at 11 am EST outside UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince.
One year ago today, then-outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly asked for the Haitian people’s forgiveness for the UN’s role in the epidemic and launched a “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti.” Many victims viewed the apology as turning a page on a hideous chapter in the UN’s activities in Haiti, but after one year of stalled promises, the hope created by the apology is dissipating.
“The UN asked for forgiveness for this illness, but they said themselves ‘sorry is not a cure’” said 63 year-old Orima Casseus in a video released today that gathers victims’ testimonies and demands for the Secretary-General. Mrs. Casseus, who is blind, lost her husband, the family’s breadwinner, to cholera. The full 5-minute video is viewable on: https://youtu.be/cMA-z7MWMec
The New Approach promised $400 million; $200 million to end cholera transmission and another $200 million for material assistance to victims. One year later, the plan is funded at only 3%. As a result, the deadliest cholera epidemic in the world continues, and the UN has made no progress towards supporting the families of the more than 10,000 people killed and 800,000 infected by the disease.
“The UN found $7.2 billion to fund MINUSTAH, a peacekeeping force in a country that has not had a war, yet it cannot raise more than $12 million to end the cholera it caused. This is not a question of lack of funding, it is about the UN’s priorities and lack of political will to fulfill promises to the Haitian people,” said Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, who leads the fight for justice from Haiti.
In June 2017, the Secretary-General asked Member States to reallocate the $40.5 million left over in MINUSTAH’s budget at its closure. Only 30 countries came through, with a total of about $3 million. The rest reverted back to member states. The UN has also shied away from including the New Approach in its regular budget, which would require all UN Member States to contribute funding. The UN regularly pays settlements for smaller-scale negligent acts out of its regular budget.
“The UN finds billions for work it deems important. But the UN and its members will not even use MINUSTAH’s leftovers to start keeping its promises to Haiti’s cholera victims,” said Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.
When the New Approach was launched one year ago, the UN underlined that it “represents a concrete and sincere expression of the Organization’s regret,” and presented two potential approaches to providing remedies to those impacted: individual assistance and community projects. In the intervening year, the UN has increasingly retreated from individual assistance, despite victims stressing the need for direct payments to recover from the devastating financial consequences of losing breadwinners, livelihoods and going into debts to bury loved ones.
“My child was all that I had. He was the one who paid my rent, gave me money to do business, and he died. Now, I am walking in the streets with nothing, I don’t even have a place to sleep,” said cholera victim Mireille Alcime, in the video. She told Secretary-General Guterres, “ I am asking for compensation, individual compensation in order for me to survive, for me to be able to live again.”
The UN’s promise to consult with victims also remains almost entirely unrealized. Despite the UN’s promise to “put victims at the center of the work” of the New Approach and develop the pledged victim material assistance package in consultation with “victims, their families and communities,” the UN has yet to announce any plan to engage with victims around their needs and priorities for redress.
“Victims have a right to be heard and the UN has an obligation to listen and be guided by them. It is not for the wrongdoer to decide what is justice for the victim,” added Joseph.
The Secretary-General’s apology and launch of the New Approach one year ago came following six years of UN denials and stonewalling of its role in the outbreak, despite overwhelming evidence that the disease was introduced through improper MINUSTAH waste disposal. The UN’s handling of the epidemic has been widely criticized, including by the UN’s own human rights experts, and led to a class action against the UN by cholera victims.
A French version of this press release can be found HERE.