Another class-action lawsuit brought against the UN for cholera in Haiti

Haiti UN Protest
A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads in Creole “Cholera of U.N. is a crime against humanity” during a protest against the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

A new class-action lawsuit against the UN was filed in a Brooklyn federal court, on Tuesday. Some 1,500 victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti are seeking compensation from the UN for causing the outbreak.

It accuses the UN of “negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct” and says that the harm caused by the ongoing cholera outbreak is the “direct result of the UN’s multiple systematic failures.”

It was filed by listing Marie Laventure, is a Haitian living in Atlanta, Georgia as the first plaintiff.  Her father and stepmother died as a result of cholera. Eight of her siblings are still living in Haiti.

“The death and injury caused by the UN cholera contagion in Haiti is heartbreaking,” said Laventure in a statement.”It has taken my parents and is threatening the lives of my young brothers and sisters in Haiti. Justice demands UN accountability for violating the most important human right, the right to live.”

It reflects a similar tone of that of the statement released by the lawyers behind the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit seeks to force the UN to take responsibility, compensate victims, and bring critical sanitation to the devastated Haitian communities the UN was sworn to protect,” it said.

More than 8,500 people have died as a result of the outbreak which also sickened more than 700,000. The UN has claimed immunity from responsibility, despite mounting evidence that its peacekeepers from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti.

This is now the second lawsuit brought against the UN. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed a case in October that also sought damages for victims and for the UN to pay for the eradication of cholera from Haiti and its neighboring Dominican Republic. A third lawsuit, filed last week, contains the same claim as the October one, only adding three new plaintiffs.

However, the US State Department recently sided with the UN. A Friday statement said that the UN is “absolutely immune from legal process” in regards to the cholera case. Lawyers in all three lawsuits against the UN have made the case that the organization cannot claim immunity because of the nature of an agreement it made with Haiti in 2004. In it, the UN assumes “liability for damage caused by members of its forces in the performance of their duties.”

Bringing cholera to Haiti, not properly disposing of human waste and causing what might be the first ever outbreak of cholera in Haiti might just fit within that agreement.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.