The United Nations has, at long last, accepted some responsibility that it played a part in a cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in 2010 and has since killed at least 9,200 people and infected nearly a million people.
This is the first time that the UN has acknowledged that it bears a duty towards the victims. It is a significant step forward in the quest for accountability and justice.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is frequently devastated by disasters — both natural and man-made. Yet cholera was not one of its problems before 2010. Then a group of UN peacekeepers was sent to help after an earthquake.
The UN did not screen its peacekeepers for cholera, nor did it build adequate toilet facilities in its peacekeeping camps. As a result, wastewater carrying cholera flowed directly into a tributary that feeds Haiti’s main river. Given that vast numbers of the population rely on the Artibonite river for washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking, cholera quickly spread around many parts of the country. The disease is now endemic within the country. People continue to die at an alarming rate by this preventable and treatable disease.
The UN has also refused to provide a mechanism through which victims can seek remedies. Peacekeeping missions are legally bound to set up claims boards for victims of civil wrongs, but this has not occurred in Haiti. A class action suit has been brought to New York district and appellate courts, but the UN has refused to appear before those courts and has hidden behind the shield of immunity from the jurisdiction of national courts. Advocacy groups have lobbied the UN and member states to provide political resolution, but none has been forthcoming.
Now, with Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure nearly finished, and with the Haiti situation remaining a stain on the UN’s reputation, it seems as though the five-year impasse may be coming to an end.
The New York Times has reported that a spokesperson for the…