The Daily Outrage

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U.N. Should Not Be Immune from Accountability for Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

This week, the Center for Constitutional Rights had the honor of joining two dozen human rights organizations in support of Haitians seeking accountability from the United Nations for its role in causing Haiti's cholera outbreak after the 2010 earthquake. CCR co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of the groups (including CCR) in support of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s (IJDH) case against the U.N. for negligence and recklessness that created the cholera epidemic.

In October 2010, U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, were brought to assist with humanitarian efforts in Haiti, but failed to screen their personnel or properly maintain waste treatment facilities, thereby transmitting cholera into the primary water source for the country. Cholera had not been present in Haiti for 200 years prior, yet the overwhelming medical consensus is that this virulent strain in Haiti came from the un-screened U.N. personnel. Now the largest single-country cholera epidemic in the world, it killed 2000 Haitians in the first thirty days and currently affects nearly 7% of the population. The consensus of public health experts is that the U.N. was responsible for the epidemic. Led by the efforts of IJDH and the Haitian human rights NGO Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Haitians demanded redress from U.N. officials in a variety of ways, including through the IJDH lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims.

Yet, adding insult to injury, the U.N. has claimed it is entitled to total immunity from legal responsibility for its failures, and a trial court accepted this argument.

Our amicus brief argues that it is antithetical to international human rights law, and the U.N.’s very purpose, to use its charter to protect it from accountability for human rights violations. “Impunity is contrary to the entire architecture of international law, including human rights law, to which the United Nations is inextricably bound,” says the brief. Therefore, “the district court’s decision incorrectly interprets the governing treaty provisions in this case and inappropriately absolves the United Nations from its firm duty to prevent the arbitrary deprivation of life and provide remediation for its own wrongdoing.” IJDH is appealing the trial court’s ruling; the amicus brief was submitted in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Our brief joins five others submitted by leading international law experts, scholars, Haitian-American leaders, and former senior U.N. officials. Learn more here.

Last modified 

June 6, 2015