Haiti cholera victims seek damages from UN for contamination

[JURIST] The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) [advocacy website] announced Tuesday that more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims are seeking damages [press release] from the UN and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [official website] for its role in the introduction of the cholera virus into the country. Since the virus was introduced into Haiti in October 2010, an epidemic [CDC backgrounder] has killed more than 6,600 Haitians and infected over 475,000 more. The victims' petition alleges that the UN is liable for failing to screen its representatives as they entered Haiti, dumping untreated waste into Haiti's most important river, the Artibonite, and failing to adequately to respond to the epidemic. Mario Joseph, a lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), said Tuesday, "this is an opportunity for the United Nations to demonstrate that its stated ideals of eliminating disease and encouraging respect for rights are not just empty promises." In January, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] announced that he would appoint an independent panel [press release] to investigate the source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti. The panel's final report [text, PDF], published in May, stated that the outbreak was likely caused by "human activity," but also concluded the resultant epidemic was caused by a "confluence of circumstances" and was "not the fault of ... a group or individual." Brian Concannon, IJDH's Director, indicated the victims rely on UN reports and law in their petition.

In June, more than 3,000 Americans signed a letter [text, PDF] to President Barack Obama urging him to stop deportations to Haiti [JURIST report] on humanitarian grounds. The letter suggested that deported citizens were immediately imprisoned in Haiti, where unsanitary prison conditions carried a high risk of exposure to the cholera epidemic as well as other deadly diseases. In April, the US State Department released [JURIST report] its 2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices [materials], reporting that Haiti [materials] has faced significant human rights abuses following the breakdown of government control [JURIST report] after the 2010 earthquake. On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake [USGS backgrounder] caused at least 50,000 deaths and massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti. The most devastated city was the capital, Port-au-Prince, where MINUSTAH said that up to 50 percent of buildings [statement] have been destroyed or damaged, including the country's presidential palace, the UN Mission headquarters and the country's main prison [JURIST report].

 

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