UN Refuses to Compensate Haiti Cholera Victims

Haitian boy with cholera
Haitian boy with cholera
Unicef

The UN continues to deny responsibility for the cholera outbreak in Haiti. It also now claims it is immune from compensating Haitian cholera victims.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon told Haiti’s President Michael Martelly that the UN is both unwilling and not required to compensate the victims.

The United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations,” spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.

Evidence that the outbreak came from Nepalese UN peacekeepers is overwhelming, but the UN has yet to claim responsibility. A lawsuit brought against the UN by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) in November 2011 called for a national water and sanitation system, compensation to the victims and a public apology from the UN to the victims.

Reactions to the announcement were swift. “It is dis­grace­ful that the UN will not even con­sider com­pen­sat­ing the thou­sands of fam­i­lies who have lost their chil­dren, moth­ers, fathers, broth­ers and sis­ters due to the UN’s wrong­do­ing,” said lead counsel of the lawsuit against the UN Mario Joseph, Av. of the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux, in a press release. The groups associated with the lawsuit pledged to keep up their fight.

The Guardian reported reactions from some Haitians who were affected by the outbreak. Alix MacGuffie from Saint Marc, Haiti was infected with cholera in July 2011 and expressed disappointment in the news.

“I could have died from cholera. The UN caused us much harm and we should get compensation. If we don’t stop cholera, what will happen in the future?” said MacGuffie.

The UN has taken the tactic of avoiding the issue. The communication between Ban and Martelly represents one of the first instances of the UN addressing the charges against them. However, no mention was made about the fault. Nesirky relayed that the Secretary General expressed his sympathies for Haiti. He then told press about he work that the UN has done in response to the outbreak.

A press conference in December was held to launch what the UN called a new initiative for eradicating cholera in Haiti. Former AP reporter Jonathan Katz and I showed in an article in Foreign Policy that the initiative was in fact not new. The larger plan was already in place and the new donor money was money that was already promised to Haiti after the earthquake. In the end, the only thing new was that the UN committed $23.5 million in new funding, roughly 1% of the estimated cost.

Much of the problem with admitting fault is the precedent it will set. “The United Nations is concerned about the precedent this would set for U.N. peacekeeping and the other work they do around the world,” said Katz to Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay Blog. “I can imagine a long line of people going around the world that would love to go after the United Nations.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a Maine-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.