Monday, October 20, 2014


And what about Haiti?

If the United Nations brings a deadly disease to a country should it be held accountable?  Should someone?

This Thursday a court proceeding will get underway with that question at its heart.  Courts are nice and we hope this one shows some actual justice and dispenses it as well, but...

As Haiti Libre points out:

After the rejection in February 2013 by the United Nations, of a first complaint against the UN in 2011, which accused the peacekeepers of being responsible for the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010 and demanded compensation for victim the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), on behalf of plaintiffs Haitian and Haitian-American, who contracted cholera, as well as families of deceased, filed Wednesday, October 9, 2013 in federal court in Manhattan a new complaint against the UN in an attempt to lift the diplomatic immunity that the United Nations has since 1946 [under section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and immunities of the United Nations]. This complaint relates directly to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for careless and dangerous behavior.

That's what they'll be talking about in a New York courtroom later this week. 

Maybe you remember, its only been four years, that while cholera hadn't been heard of in Haiti in 110 years, suddenly in October of 2010, that all changed. Twelve months later, cholera had sickened more than 450,000 Haitians, nearly 5 percent of the population. More than 6,000 were dead.  Today the numbers are higher: more than 8,500 people have died and over 700,000 have been infected.

The pathogen spread into Dominican Republic, Cuba, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. The world has failed to tame this epidemic. It continues to plague Haiti to this day, some 300 people are diagnosed with the disease each week, one of which, on average, will die.

Foreign Affairs, yes that Foreign Affairs, admits:

The right to health comes with a cover charge, and much of the world -- especially those in struggling states such as Haiti, Liberia, and Sierra Leone -- can’t pay it. In Haiti, cholera found its ideal host. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti lacks any system of modern water treatment. In the fall of 2010, United Nations peacekeeping troops from Nepal imported cholera to Haiti. They were stationed at a military base in rural Haiti, where their sewage was dumped, untreated, into Haiti’s waterways. As Paul S. Keim, a geneticist who studied the Haitian and Nepalese cholera strains, told The New York Times, in 2012, “It was like throwing a lighted match into a gasoline-filled room.

 Multiple studies, including one from Yale University, affirm that the epidemic spread from peacekeepers in a UN camp about 35 miles from Port-au-Prince. UN officials, however, have refused to accept responsibility.

The UN argues that it has immunity from prosecution in this case. In March this year, the US Justice Department sided with the UN, granting it immunity and recommending that the case be dropped.

One of those facing scrutiny in the coming court case is Edmond Mulet, who led the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) at the time of the outbreak. Mulet has stringently disregarded the claims against him. In an interview with FRANCE 24, he dismissed all evidence incriminating the UN.  He claimed that it has not been proven that the cholera was brought in by Nepalese peacekeepers.  He than asked France 24 not to air the interview.

UN Secretary general, Ban-Ki Moon has  asserted the organization’s immunity – and Haiti’s lack of sovereignty – by coldly asserting that the charges against it were, in legal parlance, “non-receivable” – and hence, inactionable. In essence, the assertion of non-receivable becomes a curt denial of Haitian humanity.  Lately, he simply refuses to comment.

France 24 points out however,

Not everybody at the UN got the silence memo. Gustavo Gallon, a senior human rights expert who was appointed by the UN to report on the situation in Haiti, publicly disagreed with the body over its refusal to address the claims against it. “Silence is the worst of responses to a catastrophe caused by human action,” he said in March.

One of the lawyers representing Haitian victims is Mario Joseph, who is handling some 5,000 cases says the UN has worked overtime to cover its culpability.  He adds, 

The UN, not intentionally but with the greatest level of negligence, gross reckless negligence, inflicted a disease on the people of Haiti when they were already suffering so much.

 Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) , who is also representing cholera victims in their case against the UN  says:

The UN has a binding international law obligation to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control the cholera epidemic, as well as compensate those injured.  MINUSTAH (the United Nations force that has militarily occupied the republic since 2004) has spent far more than $2 billion since cholera broke out on other things. It is a question of priorities.

The Canal, a Panamanian Blog, writes that Beatrice Lindstrom, an IJDH staff attorney, says treaties give the United Nations legal immunity when the organization sends peacekeepers. Instead, it is supposed to organize a Standing Claims Commission to determine whether the United Nations can be held liable for damages against a person and, if so, for how much.+

But Lindstrom says that UN officials didn’t organize a Standing Claims Commission in Haiti, nor have they done so in any of the countries in which they’ve launched peacekeeping missions in the past 66 years. In other words, if the United Nations does something wrong in a country where the organization has peacekeepers, there is simply nowhere for victims to turn

Daniele Lantagne, an environmental engineer at Tufts University and one of the UN-appointed researchers who matched the Haitian cholera strain with that of the outbreak in Nepal, is concerned that while the contagion rate has slowed in recent years, the country risks a second round of mass contagion while the international health focus is turned to Ebola.
The current lull in deaths caused by cholera might be explained by partial immunity, which occurs when a disease is rampant, she told FRANCE 24. That period of respite, she said, will last for two to three years. “After that, however,… there could be another surge.”
Something about all this sounds familiar doesn't it?
The following is from  Common Health.
Outbreak On Trial: Who’s To Blame For Bringing Disease Into A Country?
By Richard Knox
If an international agency introduces a devastating disease to a country, should it be held accountable?
That’s the big question at the heart of a court proceeding that gets underway next Thursday. The international agency is the United Nations. The disease is cholera. And the nation is Haiti.
Four years ago this month, thousands of Haitians downstream from a U.N. peacekeeping encampment began falling ill and dying from cholera, a disease not previously seen in Haiti for at least a century.
Since then cholera has sickened one in every 14 Haitians — more than 700,000 people; and over 8,000 have died. That’s nearly twice the official death count from Ebola in West Africa thus far.
A year ago, a Boston-based human rights group sued the U.N. for bringing cholera to Haiti through infected peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where the disease was circulating at the time. The U.N. camp spilled its sewage directly into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river.
There’s little doubt that the U.N. peacekeepers brought the cholera germ to Haiti. Nor is there argument over the poor sanitary conditions at the U.N. camp.
When I visited the scene in 2012, it was plain how untreated sewage from the camp could easily contaminate the Meille River that runs alongside before it spills into the Artibonite — Haiti’s Mississippi — which provides water for drinking, washing and irrigation for a substantial fraction of the country’s population.
The smoking gun, scientifically, is a molecular analysis of the Haitian cholera bug compared to the Nepalese strain from the same time period. It showed the two differ in only one out of 4 million genetic elements.
“That’s considered an exact match, that they’re the same strain of cholera,” Tufts University environmental engineer Daniele Lantagne told me last year.
She’s one of four scientists appointed by the U.N. to investigate how cholera got to Haiti.
But next week’s proceedings, in the U.S. District Court of Judge J. Paul Oetken in New York City, will not deal with those facts, and how they point to the U.N.’s responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. The only issue for now is whether the U.N. can be sued — or if it enjoys absolute immunity.
At a time when nations and U.N. agencies are being criticized for not doing enough to quell the burgeoning Ebola epidemic, the cholera suit may have special resonance.
The U.N. is not commenting on the suit. “We don’t make comments on ongoing cases,” says Matthias Gillmann, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Gillmann says the agency hasn’t commented on the matter since it announced last year that claims for compensation filed by Haitian cholera victims “were found not receivable.”
However, the U.N. has been deploying a public relations strategy to defuse Haitians’ anger about cholera. Last July Ban Ki-Moon made what he called a “pilgrimage” to a cholera-stricken family in Haiti and said he was “very much humble and sad to have seen all this tragedy that has been affecting many Haitian people.”
Ban also said the U.N. “has a moral duty to help those people to stem the further spread of cholera,” although the agency has been able to raise only about $26 million out of the $2.2 billion it says will be needed to bring clean water and sanitation to Haiti.
The U.N.’s surrogate in this legal battle is the U.S. government. In a legal brief filed in July, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara argued that the U.N. and its officials are totally immune from lawsuits, no matter what harm may arise from its activities, such as peacekeeping missions.
“The U.N. has repeatedly asserted its immunity,” Bharara wrote Judge Oetken. “Plaintiffs have not presented — and cannot present — any evidence to the contrary.”
Of course, the plaintiffs see it very differently. They’re represented by Dorchester-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and its sister group Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. Their lawsuit demands that the U.N. pay for an adequate water-and-sanitation system for Haiti, the only sure way to end the cholera epidemic, and to compensate cholera victims.
Brian Concannon of the IJDH says the U.N.’s immunity is limited. He says it’s supposed to have a mechanism to compensate those injured by its actions — which might cover such things as sexual assault by peacekeeping troops, or property damage, as well as the introduction of lethal diseases.
That mechanism is called a Standing Claims Commission, which would resolve disputes over damage claims.
“The U.N. has never set up a Standing Claims Commission in 60 years of peacekeeping missions,” Concannon said in an interview.
His group petitioned the U.N. in 2012 to set up such a commission to address cholera claims. But as the secretary-general’s spokesman says, the U.N. found those claims “not receivable,” which provoked the current lawsuit.
Despite the opposition of the U.S. government, Concannon says he’s optimistic. For one thing, Judge Oetken didn’t have to schedule a hearing at all. “The safe route for the judge would be to say, ‘I’m going to defer to the government and dismiss the case,’” Concannon says. “The fact he granted our request for a hearing is a sign the court is taking this seriously.”
In addition, the judge has opened the hearing to outside “friend of the court” parties — groups of international legal experts who support the plaintiffs’ claims. “It’s unusual that the judge made such a broad invitation,” Concannon says. “We think it’s a sign he’s interested in these issues.”
Manfred Nowak, a professor of international law and human rights at Stanford University and a former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, signed one of those amicus briefs. “The U.N. needs to understand,” Nowak says, “that immunity cannot mean impunity.”

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