November 2011, October 2013




Right to effective remedy


5,000 cholera victims, a putative class of all people injured or killed by cholera


United Nations, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


United States

Brief Summary

With the support of IJDH and IJDH’s Haiti-based partner BAI, in November 2011, 5,000 victims filed claims with the UN requesting: just compensation for their injuries; a public apology and admission of responsibility; investment in water, sanitation, and health infrastructure in order to eliminate cholera from Haiti; and the establishment of the standing claims commission. In February 2013, the UN rejected victims’ claims as “not receivable” because the claims “would necessarily include a review of political and policy matters.”

In October 2013, IJDH, BAI and law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt filed a class action lawsuit against the UN in New York Federal Court on behalf of cholera victims. The UN asked the US Government to seek dismissal on its behalf and, in March 2014, the US asserted the UN’s absolute immunity.

On October 23, 2014 a judge heard oral arguments on the question of UN immunity. On January 9, 2015, the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York dismissed our case, holding that the UN’s immunity prevented it from hearing it. On February 12, 2015, IJDH appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. On May 27, 2015, we filed the Plaintiffs’ Principal Appellate Brief. On August 26, 2015, the United States filed an Amicus Curiae Brief in support of affirmance. On September 25, 2015, we filed the Appellants Reply Brief. On March 1, 2016, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments. On August 18, 2016, the Court upheld the United Nations’ immunity from claims. We did not appeal to the Supreme Court.

The UN’s position on immunity was criticized in Haiti and internationally, including by individuals and organizations who filed amici curiae in the court case in support of IJDH’s position:

Major Highlights

Victims, supported by a global network of community leaders, activists, legal and public health experts, scientists, journalists, human rights advocates, and others have made incremental but important changes over the past 9 years including:

  • Obtaining the UN’s historic apology for its role in the outbreak;
  • Changing the UN’s practices for screening peacekeepers for cholera, with the UN’s introduction of new rules in 2015 that identify cholera as a medical condition precluding participation in peacekeeping operations and that require a cholera vaccination for all peacekeepers before deployment;
  • Propelling the development of a global cholera vaccine stockpile;
  • Prompting UN human rights experts to conclude that the UN violated cholera victims’ right to effective remedy.