Haiti Cholera Victims Welcome UN Recognizing Role in Outbreak
As one of the few countries in the world where sanitation had gotten worse over the past twenty years, Haiti was highly vulnerable to the cholera outbreak in 2010. After years of obfuscation, the United Nations has finally admitted that the epidemic was imported by UN peacekeepers. That it has happened at all is testament to the efforts of Haitian civil society and the advocacy of organizations like the Institute of Democracy and Justice in Haiti. The UN intends to release a response plan in two weeks. More information from AFP follows.
PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - Victims' advocates hailed as vindication Thursday the United Nations' acknowledgment it played a role in a devastating cholera epidemic believed to have been imported by UN peacekeepers. The epidemic has killed 10,000 people since it broke out in 2010 in the vicinity of a base housing UN peacekeepers, in a country that previously was considered cholera-free. "This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court," said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer representing victims of the epidemic that began with an outbreak in October 2010. "It is high time for the UN to make this right and prove to the world that 'human rights for all' means for Haitians too."
Compounding the suffering, the epidemic began just months after a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people on the impoverished island nation. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in an email that a "significant new set of UN actions" will be developed to respond to the crisis following a critical report by a UN adviser. "Over the past year, the UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera," Haq said. The spokesman said the new response would be released publicly with the next two months, after it has been agreed with Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.
French epidemiologist Roland Piarroux has said the scope of the cholera epidemic is "unprecedented" in recent history. The first cases appeared on the banks of the Artibonite River, near a base where Nepalese members of the UN peacekeeping mission were staying in the central town of Mirebalais. As early as November 2010, Piarroux had concluded that the epidemic had been imported into the country.
Despite numerous scientific studies backing that conclusion, the United Nations had until now refused to acknowledge any responsibility in introducing the disease in the country, saying it was impossible to authoritatively determine the source of the epidemic. US courts have rejected complaints filed by families of cholera victims in New York, where the UN is headquartered, due to the world body's immunity. "The UN 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," said Beatrice Lindstrom, staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. "We will keep fighting until it does."