COVID-19 brings renewed urgency to remedies for cholera in Haiti

Sandra Wisner of IJDH and Beatrice Lindstrom of Harvard Law School pen an opinion piece in Al Jazeera. An excerpt is below.

“It took six years of advocacy and lawsuits for the UN to pledge to address the harm suffered by cholera victims. In 2016, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a long overdue apology for the UN’s role in introducing the disease and launched a $400m initiative to eliminate cholera and provide “material assistance” to those most affected by the epidemic. 

Since then, the UN’s follow through has been “pitiful” and “deeply disappointing,” according to the experts’ statement. As we documented in the complaint that triggered the experts’ critique, the world body has raised only five percent of the amount needed, choosing to rely on charitable contributions over funding the efforts through its budget. The UN has also abandoned direct support for victims, offering only “a spate of symbolic development projects” that do not remedy the harms suffered. 

While a formal response remains forthcoming, the UN’s lacklustre initial reaction indicates that it will continue to avoid the question of justice for victims, pointing instead to general humanitarian efforts to combat cholera to absolve itself. Such investments have been critical to finally get cases down to zero, but they do not fulfil the UN’s duty to provide remedies to the victims of the epidemic. 

Compensation for victims is legally required. The UN’s direct responsibility for the avoidable introduction of the disease violated its agreements with the Haitian government and triggered a duty to compensate under its own legal frameworks and human rights law. The flouting of this obligation has subjected the organisation to accusations that it operates above the law. 

Compensation would also save lives. Cholera robbed Haitian families of breadwinners, forced them into crushing debt to pay for medical and funeral expenses, and resulted in lost livelihoods. Without compensation for the impacts of cholera, the COVID-19 pandemic now threatens to “deal a double blow” as families are left without critical means to protect themselves from the new disease or the ability to absorb yet another economic shock.”

Read the full article here.