FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
As Haiti Commemorates Earthquake, UN Accountability Crisis Deepens
Refusal to Take Responsibility for Cholera Emblematic of Failed International Responses
BOSTON, PORT-AU-PRINCE, January 6, 2015—As the world assesses Haiti’s recovery from the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, the UN’s refusal to respond justly to the cholera epidemic it brought to Haiti after the earthquake stands as a stark example of misguided priorities, mismanaged efforts and a refusal to honor commitments. Cholera cases have recently surged in Haiti—nearly 100 deaths were recorded in November 2014, making it the deadliest month on record since January 2013.
“The cholera epidemic is an excellent sincerity test for the UN, and the UN has flunked that test,” said human rights lawyer Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, the lead lawyer for cholera victims. “Cholera is a man-made disaster that could have been easily avoided by minimally adequate sanitation at the UN bases, or stopped with 19th century technology. The UN has failed on both fronts, and Haitians are suffering the consequences.”
Since it was introduced to Haiti in 2010, cholera has sickened over 720,000 and killed 8,700 people in Haiti alone— more than the total number of people killed by Ebola worldwide over that span.
The UN is coming under increasing fire for its botched response to the cholera epidemic, that experts say started when MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, discharged raw sewage from one of its bases in Haiti. In a press statement released on December 19, 2014, U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) called the cholera crisis “a stain on the world’s conscience.” Conyers led a letter signed by 77 members of Congress to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on him to immediately ensure that cholera victims have access to a settlement mechanism for resolution of their legal claims.
The UN has repeatedly refused to consider claims filed by cholera victims seeking investment in water and sanitation, compensation, and an apology. After exhausting other avenues, victims filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in October 2013, and the court held a hearing on whether the UN can claim immunity from the suit in October 2014. The UN refused to participate at the hearing, and the decision on immunity is currently pending.
In a speech delivered at McGill University in November, former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS and former Deputy Director of UNICEF Stephen Lewis said, “In the case of Haiti and cholera, the United Nations has abandoned human rights, has spurned the rule of law, and has rendered democratic principles a travesty.”
Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) who represented the cholera victims at the hearing and has written on the obligations of disaster responders under international law, emphasized that “the responses to both the earthquake and the cholera epidemic were plagued by an approach that emphasized charity at the expense of justice. Actors that should have been setting an example simply refused to comply with their obligations under international law. As a result the relief effort stumbled while the cholera epidemic prospered.”
International disaster responders have mostly agreed that aid must be delivered in a manner that prioritizes Haitian participation, transparency and accountability. Yet only 0.6% of earthquake aid was channeled through Haitian organizations, Haitians lacked information about aid initiatives, and as the cholera case demonstrates, accountability mechanisms were non-existent.
“Had earthquake responders respected their international law obligations, their efforts would have been more sustainable, more accountable to the Haitian people, and a better investment of taxpayers’ generosity. Had the UN complied with its legal obligations for recklessly introducing cholera, the epidemic would be over,” said Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., Executive Director of IJDH and one of the lawyers representing victims in a lawsuit against the UN.
For more information about cholera in Haiti and the pending litigation against the UN, please visit: http://www.ijdh.org/2014/12/