The Paw Print
In the aftermath of the January 2010 Haitian earthquake, a cholera epidemic erupted infecting more than 7 percent of the population making Haiti the country with the highest rate of cholera in the world. Some 450,000 Haitians have been sickened; more than 6,000 have died, since October 2010. According to its own sources, the United Nations released an official report in early May stating that its peacekeeping troops were responsible for the cholera epidemic. As part of the UN peacekeeping forces, cholera infected Nepalese troops stationed in Mirebalais (central Haiti) have been named the culprit of the outbreak. Genetic testing by a panel of UN doctors placed the cholera strain as native to Nepal which had its own cholera outbreak in early 2010.
Although the UN has admitted to their principal role in the outbreak, their official response has been void of any treatment strategies or compensation for those affected by the bacterial disease. Responding to the lack of tangible help received form the UN by victims; those infected have filed a joint international lawsuit against the UN, demanding adequate compensation and medical supplies to eradicate the disease that continues to persist.
Human Rights attorney and director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Brian Concannon officially filed the lawsuit on November 10. The lawsuit accuses the UN of reckless failure in containing the outbreak, “The cholera outbreak is directly attributable to the negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and deliberate indifference for the health and lives of Haiti’s citizens by the United Nations.” Additionally, the lawsuit seeks to implement increased health screenings for UN troops so diseases can be recognized before an outbreak occurs.
So far, the UN has buried its head in the sand on the cholera issue and the recent lawsuit, saying absolutely nothing after the release of their report. The UN has a long history of problems with the Haiti reconstruction efforts, “Early in its mission, there were arrests of political dissidents. There were attacks in poor neighborhoods that killed dozens of people at a time. Throughout its tenure, the U.N. has had a problem of sexual abuse. And time after time, the response has been to deny the allegations,” said Concannon.
Systematic failure by the UN to distinguish the cholera disease in the Nepalese troop contingent initiated concern and criticism from numerous human rights activists. Former president and champion of human rights, Jimmy Carter accused the UN in failing with its mission to bring healthcare to the nation. “I see a lot of reconstruction of very large houses, you know where rich people live but I have not seen any evidence of money used for the cholera outbreak which is the greatest threat to Haiti’s future,” said Carter.
Actual confrontation of the cholera disease has been largely handled by Cuban doctors sent to Haiti. Because of the solid relationship between Cuban doctors and the local population, Cuban doctors have been able to gain access to the most affected areas giving much needed support. “The Cuban doctors have done a great job. The problem is, is that this is not an epidemic you can stop with just doctors. It’s an epidemic you can stop by providing clean water and sanitation. And what we are asking for, what our clients are asking for, is the U.N. and the international community to step up and to give Haiti the sanitation infrastructure it needs to stop the epidemic,” said Concannon.
Perhaps the largest obstacle for successful litigation is the Status of Forces Agreement which Haiti signed with the UN in order to receive aid. The Status Forces Agreement provides diplomatic immunity to UN personnel and to the mission as a whole. Despite of the immunity given to the UN, Concannon believes that it won’t stand up in court, “what our lawsuit is doing is challenging the U.N. to come up with a fair, impartial forum for deciding this dispute. If they don’t, that gives national courts jurisdictions, because national courts have ruled that immunity cannot mean impunity that if organizations like the U.N. do not provide adequate alternative justice mechanisms, then national courts will then be able to take these cases.”