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UN’s tragic stand against Haitian cholera victims


rhondathompson, [email protected]

UN’s tragic stand against Haitian cholera victims

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THE RECENT DECISION by the United Nations to invoke “legal immunity” in support of its rejection of compensation claims by thousands of Haitian cholera victims poses an immediate challenge for the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
It’s of particular significance – coincidental or not – that the UN’s announcement of its rejection of damage claims on behalf of more than 5 000 Haitian cholera victims was made public within two days after President Michel Martelly had hosted Haiti’s first summit of CARICOM Heads of Government on February 18 and 19.
On February 21, as reported by international news agencies, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon telephoned Martelly to inform him of the circumstances for rejecting claims. At the same time, he gave the assurance that the world body remained “committed” to providing and improving water and sanitation facilities.
Independent observers, conscious of the various vital roles being played by the UN to aid suffering humanity, would, however, readily share the hurt of Haitians in general, and the cholera victims in particular, on learning that the compensation claims had been filed since November 2011 by the Boston-based human rights organization Institute for Justice and Democracy.
So why did it take 15 months for the UN to reject the claims for Haiti whose water and sanitation challenges had become even more acute with the nightmare earthquake’s devastation in January 2010?
Legal luminaries and many other experts in the employ of the world body must not overlook the fact that the cholera epidemic had as its source, as documented, peace-keeping soldiers from Nepal, a country where the disease is reported to be endemic.
The epidemic exploded in Haiti as the country was engaged in the early phase of the monumental challenge of post-earthquake rehabilitation, and approximately 8 000 Haitians had been killed by cholera and some 594 000 infected, with reports of a minimum of 200 new cases daily.
In a sharply condemnatory editorial of the UN’s decision to seek cover under “legal immunity” for rejecting the claims of cholera victims and their families, Britain’s The Economist lamented:
“If a company dumped lethal waste into a river in the United States, it would be sued for negligence. But there is no legal mechanism for redress against the UN. Immunity protects it from most courts . . . . Although its agreement with Haiti provides for a claims commission to hear grievances, that commission has never been set up.”
We await CARICOM’s response to this quite disturbing rejection by the UN of the damage claims of Haitian cholera victims.

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