As UN Admits Role in Haiti Cholera Crisis, Audits Show No Lessons Learned

"The U.N.'s previous denials of responsibility have left an enormous stain on the organization's credibility and [Ban's] legacy." (Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr/cc)

As UN Admits Role in Haiti Cholera Crisis, Audits Show No Lessons Learned

Years after outbreak, U.N. still did not implement strict waste disposal rules at missions in Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East

A day after the United Nations admitted that it helped spread cholera in Haiti, the organization also found that poor sanitation persisted in its missions around the world--from the Caribbean nation to Africa and the Middle East.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged on Thursday that reckless waste disposal played a role in the 2010 outbreak that killed and infected thousands of Haitians and said the organization will implement a "significant new set of U.N. actions" in the next few months to address the epidemic. The admission was in response to a private report, drafted by New York University law professor and U.N. special rapporteur on human rights Philip Alston, which found that "but for the actions of the United Nations," the crisis would not have occurred.

The announcement also came just before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld the U.N.'s "diplomatic immunity" in answering for its actions, meaning it would not be required to pay settlements to victims of the outbreak.

On Friday, findings released by the organization's Office of Internal Oversight Services showed that U.N. staffers were still not using strict waste disposal protocols at their missions in Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East as late as 2014 and 2015--years after the epidemic had killed nearly 10,000 people and sickened at least 770,000.

The New York Timesreports:

The audits may illustrate a more systemic weakness of United Nations peacekeepers, the blue-helmeted soldiers who are supposed to protect the vulnerable and uphold high moral standards in the 16 missions they operate. They are not supposed to be public health risks.

The peacekeeping missions that were audited--in Haiti, the Darfur region of Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Liberia and South Sudan--all practiced varying degrees of "unsatisfactory" waste management.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which has filed a lawsuit against the U.N. for the reckless waste practices that created the epidemic, told the Times, "The results are egregious and show that this is a massive problem across U.N. missions around the world."

In a press release Thursday, the institute said the U.N.'s acknowledgment of its role in the crisis was a "significant shift" for the organization, which has spent six years refusing to admit any culpability.

"This is a groundbreaking first step towards justice," Lindstrom said at the time. "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 U.N. 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."

Mario Joseph, managing attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), which has been advocating for the victims since 2011, added, "This outcome places the onus back on the U.N. to follow through on its commitments to respond justly to victims out of court if it does not want to be an organization that stands for impunity."

IDHJ executive director Brian Concannon also said, "This is also a victory for people around the world who believe in a United Nations that practices what it preaches on human rights. The U.N.'s previous denials of responsibility have left an enormous stain on the organization's credibility and [Ban's] legacy."

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