Expert calls UN response to cholera in Haiti ‘a disgrace’
A U.N. human-rights expert strongly criticized the United Nations on Tuesday for denying legal responsibility for the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti caused by U.N. peacekeepers, calling it “a disgrace” and urging the world body to issue an apology and accept responsibility.
Philip Alston said in a report submitted to the U.N. General Assembly that “deeply flawed” and unfounded legal advice provided by U.N. lawyers is preventing the organization from accepting responsibility for the outbreak, which has sickened nearly 800,000 Haitians and killed some 9,300.
He said the U.N.’s existing legal approach “of simply abdicating responsibility is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”
Alston said the good news is that under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “courageous leadership” a trust fund aimed at raising at least $400 million to eradicate cholera and help victims has been set up. He urged all countries to contribute generously.
“The bad news is that the U.N. has still not admitted factual or legal responsibility, and has not offered a legal settlement as required by international law,” he said.
“The U.N.’s explicit and unqualified denial of anything other than a moral responsibility is a disgrace,” Alston said. “If the United Nations bluntly refuses to hold itself accountable for human rights violations, it makes a mockery of its efforts to hold governments and others to account.”
Australian-born Alston, a law professor at New York University, is the U.N.’s independent expert on extreme poverty and human rights, appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. He presented his report to the General Assembly’s human-rights committee Tuesday.
Haiti’s Minister-Counselor Patrick Saint-Hiliaire thanked Alston “for his courage,” saying “this report gives hope.” He stressed that “truth and responsibility can only elevate the position of the United Nations,” and urged the U.N. to demonstrate “political will” by mobilizing the resources for compensation.
Researchers say cholera was first detected in Haiti’s central Artibonite Valley and cite evidence that it was introduced to the country’s biggest river from a U.N. base where Nepalese troops were deployed as part of a peacekeeping operation which has been in the country since 2004. Cholera is endemic in Nepal.
For years the U.N. denied or remained silent on longstanding allegations that it was responsible for the outbreak, while responding to lawsuits in U.S. courts by claiming immunity under a 1946 convention. In August, a U.S. appeals court upheld the United Nations’ immunity from a lawsuit filed on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims who blame the U.N. for the epidemic.