In this time of extraordinary global challenges, the UN is obligated to remedy the harm it caused in Haiti urgently.

In an unprecedented move, 14 United Nations-appointed human rights experts sharply admonished the UN last month for denying justice to victims of the cholera epidemic introduced to Haiti by UN peacekeepers in 2010. As communities around the world struggle to give meaning to the vast loss of life from COVID-19, the experts are right to draw renewed attention to this plight.

Cholera broke out in Haiti for the first time in the country’s history because the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) failed to undertake basic precautions to prevent foreseeable harm. MINUSTAH deployed peacekeepers from Nepal – a country experiencing an active cholera outbreak – without adequately screening for infection, and then recklessly disposed of contaminated faecal waste into Haiti’s largest river. The official death toll from cholera stands at 9,789, though studies suggest the true toll may be three to 10 times higher. Nearly one million Haitians have been infected – a per capita toll that exceeds any nation impacted by COVID-19 so far.  

It took six years of advocacy and lawsuits for the UN to pledge to address the harm suffered by cholera victims. In 2016, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a long overdue apology for the UN’s role in introducing the disease and launched a $400m initiative to eliminate cholera and provide “material assistance” to those most affected by the epidemic. Continue reading 

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