Photo credit: Star of Hope International
Photo credit: Star of Hope International
Photo credit: Star of Hope International

By Vania Andre

United States Congresswoman Maxine Waters sent a letter  on July 5 to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, criticizing the UN’s failure to respond to the cholera epidemic in Haiti that was introduced by UN peacekeepers in October 2010.

Her letter comes three years after the secretary general’s response letter to the congresswoman in 2013. In the letter, he assured Waters and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives of his “personal commitment” in ensuring the UN spares to effort in responding to the cholera outbreak.

“I appreciate the letter that you sent on July 5, 2013,” Waters wrote, “but I am deeply concerned that in the three years since our exchange, Haiti’s cholera epidemic continues to infect and kill Haitians at an alarming rate.”

This year so far, cholera has affected nearly 14,000 Haitians and killed 150, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

Ten months after the catastrophic earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health was notified of what would be the beginning of a cholera epidemic that would go on to sicken 770,000 people and kill more than 9,000.

“The UN has done little to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to stop the epidemic and nothing to compensate the victims for their losses,” Waters said.

In November 2011, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) filed 5,000 claims with the UN seeking:

  • The installation of a national water and sanitation system that will control the epidemic,
  • Compensation for individual victims of cholera for their losses,
  • A public apology from the United Nations for its wrongful acts

More than a year later, the UN cited the claims “not receivable.”

“This letter sends a clear message that the UN can no longer hide behind vague assurances and untenable legal positions while cholera continues to kill Haitians” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Director of the IJDH.

“The UN’s ‘non-receivable’ excuse was never morally or legally justified, and as this letter shows, it is no longer politically justifiable either” said Concannon. “Ban Ki-moon must act now to save his legacy and the UN’s credibility by ensuring a just response to the ongoing crisis.”

Waters’ letter is the latest effort in calling for accountability in the UN’s role in the cholera epidemic.In recent months a number of government officials have spoken out at UN meetings about the lack of attention given to remedying the cholera crisis in Haiti.

Last week, 158 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to U.S. Secretary General John Kerry calling on the U.S. to use its leverage with the UN to ensure a just response.

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