UN rejects lawsuit, claims immunity in HaitiBy Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Mar 29, 2013 - 11:35:03 AM
Fifteen months ago the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy In Haiti and its Haitian counterpart, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, delivered to the UN Mission in Haiti’s office a claim alleging the United Nations was culpable in spreading cholera that has to date killed nearly 8,000 Haitians and infected over 500,000 people, according to human rights organizations.
The suit seeks monetary damages of $100,000 for families who lost a loved member and $50,000 for infected persons. In addition the suit demands that the UN install a national water and sanitation system to control the epidemic and issue a public apology.
“I can confirm that we have informed counsel for the claimants that the claims are not receivable,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Feb. 21. “Consideration of the claims would necessarily involve a review of political and policy matters.” Mr. Nesirky was emphatic that the claim would not receive “further consideration by the organization.”
“So what the UN is saying is that they are an occupying force and that matters of law—allowing for personal injury—do not apply,” said Erzili Danto, founder of the Connecticut-based Haitian Lawyers Legal Network.
“It is the Haiti exception! The UN is above the law,” she complained.
“No one is above the law,” Ramsey Clark, activist, lawyer and co-founder of the International Action Center told The Final Call. However, he said, for those who want to take the matter before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, “I don’t know if I could accept this as an issue of crimes against humanity.”
The case is based on evidence that a cholera outbreak in October 2010 originated with Nepalese peacekeepers who mishandled human waste at a camp in Haiti. The fecal matter was introduced into a major waterway and the water borne disease that causes dehydration and death has ravaged the Caribbean nation.
The UN will use conventions that protect its immunity and going into courts in the United States is going to prove quite difficult, Mr. Clark predicted.
“We are going forward with our complaint in a national court. We have not made a decision which, but the most likely options are in the U.S., Haiti or Europe,” Brian Concannon, Jr., executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told The Final Call in an e-mail. “We will ask the court to refuse to allow the UN to invoke immunity and to uphold its end of the bargain to provide victims with an alternative mechanism for disputes of private injury.”
Ms. Danto points to the Status of Force Agreement signed in 2004 between the interim Haitian government and the United Nations. The pact was signed when the UN sent 14,000 peacekeepers onto the Caribbean island after the Western-sponsored ouster of democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide.
“The SOFA ‘Standing Claims Commission’ is the necessary mechanism for hearing civil cases such as the cholera claims,” said Ms. Danto. The UN has been saying since the lawsuit was filed in 2011 that there was no three-member Claims Commission established in the seven years of MINUSTAH’s existence and one would not be established.
Ms. Danto argued ultimate responsibility for the peacekeeping mission in Haiti, an “occupying force,” lies with the United States. Some analysts agree with Ms. Danto saying the U.S. and its allies deployed the troops in Haiti and responsibility for the cholera crisis rests with those countries.
Mr. Nesirky insisted during his remarks to reporters that the UN was covered under Section 29 of the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities. The spokesman also made it clear that he would not take any more questions on the matter: “It is not the UN’s practice to discuss in public the details of the response to claims filed against the organization.”
“The U.S. and its Western partners can continue to take our gold and oil, hiding behind a UN resolution, all of this is theater!” Ms. Danto said sarcastically.
Death, water and UN action in Haiti (FCN, 02-14-2013)
Haitian cholera victims sue United Nations (FCN, 12-06-2011)
Nation of Islam purchases water purification unit for Haiti (FCN, 01-11-2011)
Fears UN caused cholera outbreak in rural Haiti (FCN, 11-13-2010)