UN says it was involved in introducing cholera to Haiti

2016-08-19 14:28
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New York — The United Nations is saying for the first time that it was involved in the introduction of cholera to Haiti and needs to do "much more" to end the suffering of those affected, estimated at more than 800 000 people.

Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti's biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a UN peacekeeping base. The United Nations has never accepted responsibility, and has answered lawsuits on behalf of victims in US courts by claiming diplomatic immunity.

UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq's statement referring to the UNs "own involvement," which was sent to The Associated Press on Thursday, came a step closer to an admission of at least some responsibility and was welcomed by lawyers for the victims.

"This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court," said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights attorney whose law firm has led a high-profile claim on behalf of 5 000 cholera victims who blame the UN for introducing the disease.

Failure to santise waste

In a decision issued late on Thursday, a US federal appeals panel in New York upheld immunity for the UN and affirmed a lower court's 2015 judgment dismissing that case. Cholera victims and their lawyers have 90 days to decide if they will seek an appeal with the US Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Haq said that the United Nations has been considering a series of options, and "a significantly new set of UN actions" will be presented publicly within the next two months.

He told reporters later that a UN-appointed panel already looked into the UNs involvement. It found that a local contractor failed to properly sanitise the waste at the UN base.

"We've been trying to see exactly what we can do about our own particular role as this has been going on" and how "to bring this outbreak to a close," he said.

Haq wouldn't say whether reparations were under consideration.

According to government figures, cholera has sickened more than 800 000 people, or about 7% of Haiti's population, and has killed more than 9 200. As of March, it was killing an average of 37 people a month.

In December 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a $2.27bn initiative to help eradicate cholera in Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, but the ambitious 10-year plan is underfunded. According to a report last November, only $307m has been received.

Haq said the announcement of UN plans for new action to address cholera was made in response to a draft report by the UN special investigator on extreme poverty and human rights.

Ahead of its release, likely in late September, he said "we wanted to take this opportunity to welcome this vital report".

Haq said its findings and recommendations "will be a valuable contribution to the UN as we work towards a significantly new set of UN actions".

Read more on:    un  |  haiti

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