Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Advocates Denounce UN Chief’s Failure to Acknowledge Responsibility for Cholera



Sienna Merope-Synge, Port-au-Prince, +509-4875-3444, (English, French, Creole)

Mario Joseph, Port-au-Prince, +509-3701-9879, (Creole, French, English)

Beatrice Lindstrom, New York, +1-404-217-1302; (English, French, Creole)



Advocates Denounce UN Chief’s Failure to Acknowledge Responsibility for Cholera

Ban Visits Haiti Amidst Surging Cholera Outbreak in Hurricane-Ravaged South

(BOSTON, NEW YORK, PORT-AU-PRINCE, October 15, 2016)–Advocates for victims of the UN-caused cholera epidemic in Haiti expressed shock that the Secretary-General did not acknowledge responsibility for introducing the epidemic while explaining his much-heralded “new approach” to cholera while in Haiti today. “It is outrageous for the Secretary-General to come to Haiti, see how much we are suffering, and once again refuse to acknowledge what everybody in Haiti knows that he knows to be a scientific fact,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which has led a campaign for justice and reparations for victims of cholera since 2011. “The UN’s own experts concluded–five years ago–that the UN brought cholera to Haiti. But the Secretary-General pretends that Haitians do not know that.”

Speaking at a press conference in Port-au-Prince after touring areas devastated by Hurricane Matthew, the United Nations Secretary-General today expressed his solidarity with victims of the hurricane and deplored the continuing cholera epidemic, describing it as “sad and troubling.” He discussed the UN’s “moral responsibility”, as he did during a July 2015 visit, but failed to acknowledge the UN’s own responsibility for introducing the disease.

Hundreds of Haitians have contracted cholera in the past week, after the hurricane caused massive flooding. With health centers lacking basic supplies to treat the surge in new cases, relief workers warn that Haiti is “in a race against time,” and that there will be a spike in the epidemic in the coming weeks if water treatment, rehydration supplies, and medical care is not provided immediately.

On August 18, 2016, the UN conceded that it “has become convinced that it must do much more in response to its own involvement in the initial outbreak,” and the Secretary-General vowed to announce a “new response” within two months that would include cholera control and material assistance for victims. On Friday, the UN launched a new cholera response trust fund, which is not yet funded. Further details of the new approach are yet to emerge.

Victims and their advocates have called on the Secretary-General for years to publicly apologize for the UN’s introduction of cholera to Haiti through reckless waste management, and for its continuous denials and gross mishandling of the situation over the past six years. “Human rights are something that all people must respect no matter how powerful you are,” wrote cholera victim Viengemene Ulisse in a personal letter to the UN in December 2015, one of more than 2000 victims to send such appeals.

In his final address to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General expressed “tremendous regret and sorry [sic] for Haitians affected by cholera,” but still refused to acknowledge the UN’s own responsibility for causing that suffering.

“Ban now has less than three months left in office. He is running out of time to repair the deep stain on his legacy caused by six years of denial and deception about the cholera epidemic” said Sienna Merope-Synge, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which represents the victims of the epidemic.  “A good step would be acknowledging the basic facts, over which there has been no serious scientific dispute for over five years.”

Ban spoke about the difficulties in fundraising for the new cholera initiative, but advocates say admitting responsibility is a critical prerequisite and component of a just response. “Member states must step up and fund the UN’s new response, but unless the UN publicly takes responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti, its efforts will not be credible in the eyes of the donor community, or in the eyes of the Haitian people” said Beatrice Lindstrom, also a lawyer with IJDH and counsel for victims in a lawsuit filed in U.S court.

In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed an earlier dismissal of the lawsuit from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, holding that any violation of the UN’s obligations to provide remedies for personal injury claims out of court does not impact its immunity from suit.

Victims are now weighing whether to pursue an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.


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