Sixty human rights organizations from Haiti and around the world sent a letter Monday to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, imploring the U.N. to fufill its responsibilities to the hundreds of thousands of victims affected by the catastrophic 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti it caused.
"This letter highlights how far the U.N.'s charity-based model falls short of fundamental human rights principles," said Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
The outbreak has killed more than 11,000 people and left more than 880,000 infected.
Experts concluded that cholera was introduced to Haiti in 2010 through careless waste management on a U.N. peacekeeping base. While the United Nations denied any responsibility for years, it later admitted fault after caving to overwhelming scientific evidence and immense public outcry. Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights, labeled their denial as "morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, and politically self-defeating."
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In response, the U.N. launched a $400-million-dollar plan in 2016 entitled "New Approach to Cholera in Haiti" that aims to eradicate the epidemic and provide a victims assistance package. The victims assistance package included individual payments to affected households, and community projects, which would be decided upon through a process of victims consultation. However, 18 months on, the U.N. has failed to deliver on its promises, the groups say.
"A rights-based, victim-centered response requires meaningful participation by victims at every step of the process. Victims must be consulted about all decisions regarding the response, including the balance between community projects and individual payments to victims. Decisions must be implemented in conformity with the victims' priorities and perspectives. The U.N.'s limited interaction with victims to date falls a long way short of this standard," the letter reads.
"The U.N. has an opportunity with the New Approach to help rebuild the lives of thousands of cholera victims," it concludes, "and set a powerful example that the U.N. will embody the principles of human rights and rule of law that it promotes to others."
As Steven Lewis, former deputy executive director of UNICEF, previously argued, "Guterres is retreating on an absolute commitment that is his job to fulfill. Perhaps it is unintentional, but he's adding insult to grave injury for the people of Haiti, who continue to die from cholera at a rate of one person per day."
"Secretary-General Guterres must chart a new direction if the U.N.'s promises of a New Approach that respects victims are to be more than just empty words," said Concannon.
In the following IJDH video, victims explain the devastating impact the cholera outbreak had on their lives and urge the U.N. to take action: