UN admits role in Haiti cholera outbreak
Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti’s biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a UN peacekeeping base. The United Nations has never accepted responsibility, and has answered lawsuits on behalf of victims in US courts by claiming diplomatic immunity.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq’s statement referring to the UN’s “own involvement,’’ which was sent to The Associated Press on Thursday, came a step closer to an admission of at least some responsibility and was welcomed by lawyers for the victims.
“This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court,’’ said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights attorney whose law firm has led a high-profile claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims who blame the UN for introducing the disease.
In a decision issued late Thursday, a US federal appeals panel in New York upheld immunity for the UN and affirmed a lower court’s 2015 judgment dismissing that case. Cholera victims and their lawyers have 90 days to decide if they will seek an appeal with the US Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Haq said that the United Nations has been considering a series of options, and “a significantly new set of UN actions’’ will be presented publicly within the next two months. He told reporters later that a U.N.-appointed panel already looked into the UN’s involvement and found that a local contractor failed to properly sanitize the waste at the UN base.
“We’ve been trying to see exactly what we can do about our own particular role as this has been going on’’ and how “to bring this outbreak to a close,’’ he said. Haq wouldn’t say whether reparations were under consideration. His statement on UN involvement was first reported by The New York Times.
Five UN human rights experts criticized the United Nations in a letter to top UN officials late last year for its “effective denial of the fundamental right of the victims of cholera to justice.’’
At least one lawsuit was dismissed because of the UN’s diplomatic immunity claim. But a US federal appeals panel in New York is weighing whether the lawsuit that Haitian lawyer Joseph is involved in can proceed, or if the United Nations is entitled to immunity.