Human rights activists filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday against the United Nations, demanding compensation and public responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has affected thousands of people in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Numerous independent reports, including one produced by an expert panel commissioned by the UN, have concluded that the epidemic was most likely introduced by UN peacekeeping forces who were carrying a strain of the disease from Nepal, and that they did not take sufficient precautions to prevent its spread.
Cholera infections had not been reported for nearly a century in Haiti prior to the 2010 epidemic. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—the group representing the families and individuals seeking compensation in the trial—estimates that 685,000 Haitians have been affected by the disease since 2010. So far, 8,400 Haitians have died from cholera and the disease is expected to claim an additional 1,000 lives each year. Expert reports found that the disease was spread from a UN camp with “documented sanitation deficiencies,” and then carried by sewage channels into the island’s Artibonite River, used by many Haitians for bathing and drinking water.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in February that UN would not provide compensation to victims of the outbreak, citing provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which grants the UN immunity from domestic laws. International law experts agree, saying it is unlikely the case will be considered by the federal court where it was introduced, provided that the UN has enjoyed legal immunity from domestic laws since World War II. Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke on the issue last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, saying the entity has “a moral responsibility” to compensate victims.