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Another report holds UN to account over cholera in Haiti

Yale researchers visit UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
Yale researchers visit UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

The UN peacekeeping mission from Nepal is the source of the cholera outbreak and the UN should be held accountable, says a new report from Yale University.

Peacekeeping without Accountability takes what it calls the first comprehensive analysis of the cholera outbreak that started in late 2010 and killed more than 8,000 people. It agrees with the consensus view that UN MINUSTAH peacekeepers inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti.

Improper water and sanitation facilities at the MINUSTAH base led to the contamination of the Artibonite River, Haiti’s largest river and a water source for many Haitians. The outbreak accelerated to infect more than 600,000 Haitians due to reliance on the river for drinking water and poor sanitation practices in nearby communities.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced in December a $2.27 billion initiative to eliminate cholera from the Haiti and its neighbor the Dominican Republic. The ten-year plan remains woefully underfunded.

“The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law. Moreover, in failing to lead by example, the U.N. undercuts its very mission of promoting the rule of law, protecting human rights, and assisting in the further development of Haiti,” said co-author Tassity Johnson.

The report’s findings are based on interviews with victims of the outbreak, human rights advocates, attorneys, journalists, aid workers, medical doctors, and government agency officials. It shows the impact of the outbreak on Haitians and the lack of justice mechanism for the UN. Despite a prior agreement to establish a standing claims commission, the UN has yet to provide any place for people affected by the outbreak to bring forward their claims, says the report. Such an action “violates obligations under international law by not providing a forum to address the grievances of cholera victims.”

“As a result, a meaningful mechanism to ensure peacekeeper accountability has been rendered a nullity,” write the authors. “The introduction of cholera by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti exemplifies why such a standing claims commission is a vital part of any peacekeeping mission.”

The authors issue a set of recommendations for the UN to fulfill its ‘contractual, legal and moral obligations’ to people affected by the outbreak. That means setting up a legal mechanism for victims, take on the funding responsibility for the cholera response and enact reforms so the same problem does not happen twice.

They recognize the importance of the UN in responding to the earthquake in early 2010, but say that it should not allow them to shirk responsibility for the outbreak.

“The U.N.’s ongoing  unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law  and established principles of humanitarian relief,” they write.

Many of the ideas reflect the demands made by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the group that is trying to bring a lawsuit against the UN. IJDH director Brian Concannon expressed hope in July the appointment of Samantha Power to the position of US Ambassador to the UN will place more pressure on the UN to claim responsibility for the outbreak.

“Ms. Power understands the accountability issues well enough to advocate for a just response to the U.N. cholera epidemic in Haiti. As US Ambassador to the U.N., her intervention could be the tipping point,” said Concannon.


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]