[Blackstudies-l] United Nations admits to role in Haiti cholera epidemic

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Thu Aug 18 08:33:23 EDT 2016

lisaparavisini posted: " Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon says a ‘significant new set of
UN actions’ would be needed to respond to the crisis. A report by Jonathan
M. Katz for The New York Times. For the first time since a cholera epidemic
believed to be imported by United Nations p"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> United Nations admits
to role in Haiti cholera epidemic
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: 27113342.JPG]
Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon says a ‘significant new set of UN actions’ would be
needed to respond to the crisis. A report by Jonathan M. Katz for *The New
York Times*

For the first time since a cholera epidemic believed to be imported by
United Nations peacekeepers began killing thousands of Haitians nearly six
years ago, the office of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged
that the UN played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant
new set of UN actions” would be needed to respond to the crisis.

The deputy spokesman for the secretary-general, Farhan Haq, said in an
email this week that “over the past year, the UN has become convinced that
it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial
outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.”
He added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next
two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian
authorities and discussed with member states.”

The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Ban by a
long-time UN adviser on Aug 8. Written by Mr Philip Alston, a New York
University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as
special rapporteurs, who advise the organisation on human rights issues,
the draft language stated plainly that the epidemic “would not have broken
out but for the actions of the United Nations”.

The secretary-general’s acknowledgment, by contrast, stopped short of
saying that the United Nations specifically caused the epidemic. Nor does
it indicate a change in the organisation’s legal position that it is
absolutely immune from legal actions, including a federal lawsuit brought
in the United States on behalf of cholera victims seeking billions in
damages stemming from the Haiti crisis.

But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of
high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United
Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and
sickened hundreds of thousands. Cholera victims suffer from dehydration
caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Special rapporteurs’ reports are technically independent guidance, which
the United Nations can accept or reject. UN officials have until the end of
this week to respond to the report, which will then go through revisions,
but the statement suggests a new receptivity to its criticism.

In the 19-page report, obtained from an official who had access to it, Mr
Alston took issue with the UN’s public handling of the outbreak, which was
first documented in mid-October 2010, shortly after people living along the
Meille River began dying from the disease.

The first victims lived near a base housing 454 UN peacekeepers freshly
arrived from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was underway, and waste from
the base often leaked into the river. Numerous scientists have since argued
that the base was the only plausible source of the outbreak — whose real
death toll, one study found, could be much higher than the official numbers
state — but UN officials have consistently insisted that its origins remain
up for debate.

Mr Alston wrote that the UN’s Haiti cholera policy “is morally
unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating”.

He added: “It is also entirely unnecessary.”

The organisation’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the
victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the UN
insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such
responsibility for itself.”

He said: “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that UN
peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and
it undermines both the UN’s overall credibility and the integrity of the
Office of the Secretary-General.”

Mr Alston went beyond criticising the Department of Peacekeeping Operations
to blame the entire UN system. “As the magnitude of the disaster became
known, key international officials carefully avoided acknowledging that the
outbreak had resulted from discharges from the camp,” he noted.

His most severe criticism was reserved for the organisation’s Office of
Legal Affairs, whose advice, he wrote, “has been permitted to override all
of the other considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of seeking
a constructive and just solution.” Its interpretations, he said, have
“trumped the rule of law.”

Mr Alston also argued in his report that, as The New York Times has
reported, the UN’s cholera eradication program has failed. Infection rates
have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the organisation
struggles to raise the US$2.27 billion (S$3.04 billion) it says is needed
to eradicate the disease from member states.

No major water or sanitation projects have been completed in Haiti; two
pilot wastewater processing plants built there in the wake of the epidemic
quickly closed because of a lack of donor funds.

In a separate internal report released days ago after being withheld for
nearly a year, UN auditors said a quarter of the sites run by the
peacekeepers with the organisation’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or
Minustah, that they had visited were still discharging their waste into
public canals as late as 2014, four years after the epidemic began.

“Victims are living in fear because the disease is still out there,” Mr
Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer representing cholera
victims, told demonstrators in Port-au-Prince last month.

He added: “If the Nepalese contingent returns to defecate in the water
again, they will get the disease again, only worse.”

In 2011, when families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the
United Nations for redress, its Office of Legal Affairs simply declared
their claims “not receivable”. (Alston called that argument “wholly
unconvincing in legal terms”.)

Those families and others then sued the United Nations, including Mr Ban
and the former Minustah chief Mr Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New
York. In November, Mr Ban promoted Mulet to be his chief of staff. The
United Nations refused to appear in court, claiming diplomatic immunity
under its charter, leaving Justice Department lawyers to defend it instead.
That case is now pending a decision from the 2nd US Circuit Court of
Appeals in New York.

The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000
affected would reach US$40 billion, Alston wrote — and that figure does not
take into account “those certain to die and be infected in the years ahead”.

“Since this is almost five times the total annual budget for peacekeeping
worldwide, it is a figure that is understandably seen as prohibitive and
unrealistic,” he said.

Still, he argued: “The figure of US$40 billion should stand as a warning of
the consequences that could follow if national courts become convinced that
the abdication policy is not just unconscionable but also legally
unjustified. The best way to avoid that happening is for the United Nations
to offer an appropriate remedy.”

Mr Alston, who declined to comment for this article, will present the final
report at the opening of the General Assembly in September, when
presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from nearly every country gather
at UN headquarters in New York.

Mr Haq said the secretary-general’s office “wanted to take this opportunity
to welcome this vital report”, which he added “will be a valuable
contribution to the UN as we work towards a significant new set of UN
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August 17, 2016 at 11:54 pm | Categories: News
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