By New Cold War.org, adapted from RT.com, Aug 18, 2016
United Nations officials have acknowledged for the first time the role UN peacekeepers played in the 2010 deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands of others. The epidemic is ongoing in Haiti, where cholera was unknown until it was brought to the island in 2010 by UN ‘peacekeepers’ [occupation troops] from Nepal who wre part of the UN’s ‘MINUSTAH’ military occupation regime.
The Office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in an email this week, “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,” reported the New York Times.
For six years, UN officials have refused to accept blame for bringing cholera to Haiti. Suspicions settled on a group of UN troops from Nepal who arrived after the January 2010 earthquake. Nepal had a cholera epidemic underway at the time. Raw sewage from the latrines at the UN Nepalese troops’ camp was allowed to seep into the adjacent Artibonite River, Haiti’s largest.
The earthquake crippled the capital of Port-au-Prince, killing 200,000 people, then the cholera outbreak sickened hundreds of thousands and has killed some 10,000.
The families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the United Nations in 2011 for redress, but its Office of Legal Affairs declared their claims “not receivable.”
Beatrice Lindstrom, an attorney for Haitian cholera victims who have filed a suit in U.S. federal courts seeking reparations from the UN told the Washington Post that acceptance of culpability could make it more likely plaintiffs will finally receive financial compensation. “The UN has broad immunity from national courts, but that has always been conditioned on providing remedies out of court to victims who are harmed by UN operations,” she told the Post. “It has been in breach of the treaty granting it immunity in the first place, so if the UN follows through on remedies, that would make questions of immunity mute.”
UN ‘peacekeepers’ were deployed to Haiti following the violent overthrow by right-wing paramilitaries with U.S. backing of the elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He was a reform-minded president elected for the second time with an overwhelming majority in the year 2000.
The deputy spokesman for the secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told the New York Times the United Nations will draft a new response within two months and present it “once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.”
“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 lawyer representing victims of the epidemic. He is the lead attorney in the Port au Prince-based Bureau des avocats internationaux (Office of International Lawyers). It and its partner advocacy office in Boston, the Institue for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, have spearheaded the legal action against the UN for the past six years.
The UN acknowledgment comes after top officials were provided a draft 19-page report by an adviser criticizing their handling of the cholera outbreak. Written by NYU law professor Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the report will likely be published in September and present by Ban at the UN General Assembly in October.
Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating,” according to the New York Times.
Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to blame the entire United Nations 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.
When the outbreak occurred, it spread rapidly in the muddy, crowded tent camps where Haitians had sought refuge after the quake. The disease continues to sicken Haitians, especially in rural parts of the country without access to clean drinking water. A new spike of infections has been reported this year.
A report published in March 2016 based on research by Doctors Without Borders raises the possibility the disease may have killed far more Haitians than previously estimated.
The UN secretary-general stopped short of saying the United Nations caused the outbreak. The organization continues to hold the position it is immune from legal action over the outbreak.
Note by New Cold War.org:
 The United Nations figure of “200,000” killed in the Haiti earthquake of January 2010 has never been verified by scientific study. The only study on the subject, the BARR Study issued in 2011, estimated earthquake deaths at 40,000 to 70,000.
Two related readings:
UN admits responsibility for Haiti cholera
Advocates hail major breakthrough but commit to continued advocacy
PORT AU PRINCE, BOSTON, NEW YORK —For the first time in the six years since it brought the world’s worst cholera epidemic to Haiti, the United Nations has publicly admitted its role in causing the outbreak. In a statement released today, the UN Spokesperson recognized the need for the organization to do “much more regarding its own involvement in the [cholera] outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.”
“In Haiti we say ‘viktwa se pou pep la’ — victory is for the people. 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, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, which has led a campaign for justice and reparations for victims of cholera since 2011.
The UN also announced that it will be rolling out a “significant set of new actions” in the coming two months, and that “a series of options have been under consideration.” The Spokesperson 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.”
“This is a groundbreaking first step towards justice,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Esq., of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which has filed a lawsuit against the UN for the reckless sanitation practices that caused the epidemic. “But promises will not stop cholera’s killing or compensate for the damage to poor families in Haiti. The real test is in what comes next. The UN must follow this announcement with action, including issuing a public apology, establishing a plan to provide compensation to the victims who have lost so much, and ensuring that cholera is eliminated in Haiti through robust investment in water and sanitation infrastructure. We will keep fighting until it does.”
“We welcome this announcement, but the UN must ensure that the victims have a central voice in this process,” added Joseph.
The acknowledgment follows a six year global campaign that has brought together cholera victims, Haitian grassroots groups such as MOLEGHAF, activists worldwide, legal experts,human rights and civil society groups, Haitian diaspora organizations, community and political leaders, scientists, academics and media around the world, as well as many of the UN’s own human rights experts, in calling for a just response.
“This is also a victory for people around the world who believe in a United Nations that practices what it preaches on human rights,” said Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Executive Directory of IJDH. “The UN’s previous denials of responsibility have left an enormous stain on the organization’s credibility and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s legacy.”
The UN’s announcement was made in response to a critical report by prominent UN adviser Philip Alston, one of several UN-appointed human rights experts who have used their positions to call for a just response from the organization since 2014.
According to the New York Times, the report, which has not yet been publicly released, chastises the UN for a position that “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”
This development comes amidst a new report by the UN’s audit office showing that the UN was still discarding contaminated waste into Haitian waterways as recently as June 2015.
“It is high time for the UN to make this right and prove to the world that “human rights for all” means for Haitians too,” said Joseph.
- Mario Joseph, Av., Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, (in Haiti), [email protected], +509-3701-9878 (French, Creole, English)
- Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, [email protected], +1-541-263-0029 (English, French, Creole)
- Beatrice Lindstrom, Esq., Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, [email protected], +1-404-217-1302 (English, Creole, French)
UN admits role in cholera epidemic in Haiti
By Jonathan Katz, New York Times, Aug 17, 2016
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 United Nations played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will 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 U.N. 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 Mr. Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization 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 organization’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. United Nations 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 United Nations’ 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 United Nations 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 United Nations officials have consistently insisted that its origins remain up for debate.
Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. 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 U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”
Mr. Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to blame the entire United Nations 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 organization’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 United Nations’ cholera eradication program has failed. Infection rates have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the organization struggles to raise the $2.27 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, United Nations auditors said a quarter of the sites run by the peacekeepers with the organization’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,” 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.” (Mr. 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 Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New York. (In November, Mr. Ban promoted Mr. 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 Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000 affected would reach $40 billion, Mr. 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 $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 United Nations 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 U.N. as we work towards a significant new set of U.N. actions.”
Jonathan Katz authored the 2014 book on the 2010 Haiti earthquake, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. He was the journalist that broke the story to the world of how Nepalese soldiers in the UN ‘MINUSTAH’ occupation force in Haiti caused the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in October 2010. The book stops short of analyzing how MINUSTAH contributed to making Haiti so vulnerable to the January 2010 earthquake in the first place and why MINUSTAH was in the country. MINUSTAH was put into place by the UN Security Council in June 2004 to consolidate the overthrow of the elected President Jean-Bertand Aristide in February 2004. At its height, MINUSTAH numbered 10,000 soldiers and occupation administration personnel. Twelve-plus years later, the MINUSTAH occupation is ongoing.
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