Advocates for victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic filed a lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday.
Cholera has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 650,000 since the epidemic broke out following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010—an epidemic the suit charges "resulted from the negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct of the Defendants: the United Nations (“UN”); its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (“MINUSTAH”); and at least two of their officers.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, previously noted that
The scientific and forensic evidence that UN troops brought cholera to Haiti is far beyond the standard of "reasonable doubt" required in the U.S. criminal justice system, let alone the less exacting standard of "preponderance of the evidence" in a civil suit. It included studies by independent scientists, articles published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and even the UN's own research.
"The United Nations is the clearly the cause of the cholera," Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans who's also been active in human rights in Haiti for years, told Common Dreams.
Five Haitians and Haitian-Americans whose family members were killed or sickened by the disease are the plaintiffs and are seeking class-action in the suit, and are being represented the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt (KKWT).
The victims "have rights to have a Court hear their case and rights to damages that will help them go on with their lives and access clean water,” Brian Concannon, director of IJDH and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
Victims have been struggling for years to get justice for the UN-caused epidemic that continues to kill 1,000 Haitians a year.
In 2011, over 5,000 cholera victims issued the UN a petition demanding compensation and an apology for the deadly epidemic it brought to Haiti. In February of 2013, however, the UN rejected the victims' claim, stating, "claims are not receivable."
Then, in May, the victims threated to sue the UN if the body continued to evade what they saw as its moral and legal obligations to provide justice and reparations to the thousands affected by the disease.
Just over a week ago, advocates for the cholera victims brought their voices calling for justice to a demonstration outside the UN headquarters.
On Wednesday, the demand continued with the complaint filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
Mario Joseph, BAI Managing Attorney and co-counsel on the case, said that “The filing of this lawsuit marks a critical step towards justice for Haiti and all those who have suffered and are suffering because of cholera."
“We are asking for the judge to find the United Nations liable,” Beatrice Lindstrom, spokesperson for IJDH, told the New York Times. “It has violated its legal obligations through reckless actions that brought cholera to Haiti.”
At least one person at the UN agrees that Haiti's cholera victims deserve compensation—UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.
Speaking in Geneva, where BAI's Joseph was receiving the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award, Pillay said, "I still stand by the call ... of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation."
"As Colin Powell once said," Quigley added, "international responsibilities are like the sign in Pottery Barn—if you break it, you own it. The UN owns this problem and should do everything under the sun to fix it."