In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake nearly 9,000 Haitians died from a cholera outbreak that hit the already devastated country. After months of speculation, the general consensus was that the source of the outbreak was the very body of people that were supposed to be helping the small island nation–the United Nations (UN) peacekeepers.
In an unprecedented move, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was served on June 20 with court papers as he entered an event at the Asia society in midtown Manhattan. The complaint, which is a part of a Brooklyn federal lawsuit, was filed against Ki-moon and the UN over the cholera outbreak that killed thousands of Haitians.
“This is a significant development in the fight to hold the United Nations responsible for the tragic events in Haiti,” said Stanley Alpert, an attorney representing more than 1,500 Haitian plaintiffs who filed suit against Ki-Moon and the UN. They are seeking compensation for victims and for the UN to bring critical sanitation systems to devastated Haitian communities.
“The United Nations now must directly respond to the fact that they have repeatedly waived immunity for their actions in Haiti,” said Tim Howard, another lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ lawyers cite a statement made by the UN in a 1996 report that implies the “assumption of liability is not a new concept for the UN.”
According to the UN secretary general’s 1996 Report of the Secretary-General, Administrative and Budgetary Aspects of Financing of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, the UN assumes “liability for damage caused by members of its forces in the performance of their duties.”
“The UN explicitly agreed to set up a compensation process when they entered Haiti,” said Howard.”They now must face a U.S. federal judge and explain why they feel they are immune from fulfilling that agreed-upon responsibility.”
The plaintiffs argue the UN failed to adequately screen troops headed for Haiti after the earthquake; and failed to engage in “sanitary practices of waste disposal.”
“Silence is the worst weapon,”Gustavo Gallon, a United Nations’ independent expert on human rights, said. “The UN must take responsibility and “fully compensate victims.”
By Vania André