UN-appointed expert latest to pin Haiti cholera blame on peacekeepers

Cholera treatment at Borgne hospital.
Cholera treatment at Borgne hospital.
Ansel Herz

The latest development in the more than three year old cholera outbreak in Haiti saw another finger pointed towards the United Nations.

Gustavo Gallon, a UN-appointed expert, authored a report on Haiti details a host of problems faced by Haiti, from the treatment of prisoners to delayed elections. It also included a section on the cholera outbreak. He says that evidence shows that the UN peacekeeping mission from Nepal is responsible and that the victims should be compensated

“The diplomatic difficulties around this question have to be resolved to stop the epidemic as soon possible and pay full compensation for suffering experienced,” wrote Gallon in the report. “It is advisable to shed light on what really happened and to punish those responsible, whoever they may be.”

The lawyers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) welcomed the report, but were disappointed that the UN has yet to take responsibility. It is one of the groups that filed a lawsuit against the UN in October to hold the organization and the peacekeeping mission accountable for the cholera outbreak. It was proceeded bye the invocation by the UN of immunity, in order to protect itself from a lawsuit.

“By calling for compensation in accordance with the guidelines that govern the gravest human rights violations in the world, Gallón is rightfully recognizing the gravity of the situation,” said co-counsel for the plaintiffs, Jeff Brand. “The UN itself warns that another 2000 people may die in 2014, yet it’s not responding adequately to the crisis or victims’ calls for justice.”

So far, more than 8,500 people have died and another 700,000 have fallen ill due to the outbreak. The lawsuit is seeking for victim compensation and for the UN to take full responsibility for ridding the island of Hispaniola of cholera. Haitian Americans are applying pressure on the US State department to not support the UN in its quest to shirk responsibility.

“We urge you and your Department to stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court,” said Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorecena Forry and others in an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. “We are committed to advocating for justice until the victims have had their day in court.”

A cholera treatment center run by MSF in Carrefour, one of Port au Prince's neighborhoods.
A cholera treatment center run by MSF in Carrefour, one of Port au Prince’s neighborhoods.

The UN has said little in response to the new report aside from a longer no comment at a press briefing when asked about the report by Matthew Lee of Inner City Press.

“The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that,” said Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Economist sees the report as evidence of in-fighting at the UN over the issue.

Mr Gallon’s forthright remarks are being seen as a sign that a heated argument is underway at Turtle Bay, the UN’s New York headquarters. The battleground is the gap between UN’s irredeemably idealistic purpose and its all-enveloping legal immunity.

Though internal disagreement is not necessarily new. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health and a  Special Adviser for Community-based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti to the UN Secretary-General, told Charlie Rose that UN peacekeepers were responsible, last May. That came a year after former US President Bill Clinton said the same thing.

“I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera in Haiti, the U.N. peacekeeper, or [U.N.] soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” said Clinton to reporters.

The Gallon report is not the first time that a UN-supported expert said that the peacekeepers were to blame. Harvard University’s Dr Daniele Lantagne took part in the 2011 Panel of Experts report on the outbreak. The report contained damning evidence for the peacekeeping mission, but hedged in its conclusion. A year later, Dr Lantagne said that new data shows that the outbreak was “most likely” caused by the peacekeepers.


About Author

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.