[Marxism] U.N. Admits Role in Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 18 16:34:40 MDT 2016

NY Times, August 18 2016
U.N. Admits Role in Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

For the first time since a cholera epidemic believed to be imported by 
United Nations peacekeepers began killing thousands of Haitians nearly 
six years ago, the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has 
acknowledged that the United Nations played a role in the initial 
outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed 
to respond to the crisis.

The deputy spokesman for the secretary general, Farhan Haq, said in an 
email this week that “over the past year, the U.N. 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.” He 
added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next 
two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian 
authorities and discussed with member states.”

The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Mr. 
Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip 
Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few 
dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization 
on human rights issues, the draft language stated plainly that the 
epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United 

The secretary general’s acknowledgment, by contrast, stopped short of 
saying that the United Nations specifically caused the epidemic. Nor 
does it indicate a change in the organization’s legal position that it 
is absolutely immune from legal actions, including a federal lawsuit 
brought in the United States on behalf of cholera victims seeking 
billions in damages stemming from the Haiti crisis.

But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of 
high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United 
Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and 
sickened hundreds of thousands. Cholera victims suffer from dehydration 
caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting.

Special rapporteurs’ reports are technically independent guidance, which 
the United Nations can accept or reject. United Nations officials have 
until the end of this week to respond to the report, which will then go 
through revisions, but the statement suggests a new receptivity to its 

In the 19-page report, obtained from an official who had access to it, 
Mr. Alston took issue with the United Nations’ public handling of the 
outbreak, which was first documented in mid-October 2010, shortly after 
people living along the Meille River began dying from the disease.

The first victims lived near a base housing 454 United Nations 
peacekeepers freshly arrived from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was 
underway, and waste from the base often leaked into the river. Numerous 
scientists have since argued that the base was the only plausible source 
of the outbreak — whose real death toll, one study found, could be much 
higher than the official numbers state — but United Nations officials 
have consistently insisted that its origins remain up for debate.

Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is 
morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically 
self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The 
organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the 
victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the 
U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting 
any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that 
U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being 
protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the 
integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

Mr. Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping 
Operations to blame the entire United Nations system. “As the magnitude 
of the disaster became known, key international officials carefully 
avoided acknowledging that the outbreak had resulted from discharges 
from the camp,” he noted.

His most severe criticism was reserved for the organization’s Office of 
Legal Affairs, whose advice, he wrote, “has been permitted to override 
all of the other considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of 
seeking a constructive and just solution.” Its interpretations, he said, 
have “trumped the rule of law.”

Mr. Alston also argued in his report that, as The New York Times has 
reported, the United Nations’ cholera eradication program has failed. 
Infection rates have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the 
organization struggles to raise the $2.27 billion it says is needed to 
eradicate the disease from member states. No major water or sanitation 
projects have been completed in Haiti; two pilot wastewater processing 
plants built there in the wake of the epidemic quickly closed because of 
a lack of donor funds.

In a separate internal report released days ago after being withheld for 
nearly a year, United Nations auditors said a quarter of the sites run 
by the peacekeepers with the organization’s Stabilization Mission in 
Haiti, or Minustah, that they had visited were still discharging their 
waste into public canals as late as 2014, four years after the epidemic 

“Victims are living in fear because the disease is still out there,” 
Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer representing 
cholera victims, told demonstrators in Port-au-Prince last month. He 
added, “If the Nepalese contingent returns to defecate in the water 
again, they will get the disease again, only worse.”

In 2011, when families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the 
United Nations for redress, its Office of Legal Affairs simply declared 
their claims “not receivable.” (Mr. Alston called that argument “wholly 
unconvincing in legal terms.”)

Those families and others then sued the United Nations, including Mr. 
Ban and the former Minustah chief Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New 
York. (In November, Mr. Ban promoted Mr. Mulet to be his chief of 
staff.) The United Nations refused to appear in court, claiming 
diplomatic immunity under its charter, leaving Justice Department 
lawyers to defend it instead. That case is now pending a decision from 
the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000 
affected would reach $40 billion, Mr. Alston wrote — and that figure 
does not take into account “those certain to die and be infected in the 
years ahead.”

“Since this is almost five times the total annual budget for 
peacekeeping worldwide, it is a figure that is understandably seen as 
prohibitive and unrealistic,” he said. Still, he argued: “The figure of 
$40 billion should stand as a warning of the consequences that could 
follow if national courts become convinced that the abdication policy is 
not just unconscionable but also legally unjustified. The best way to 
avoid that happening is for the United Nations to offer an appropriate 

Mr. Alston, who declined to comment for this article, will present the 
final report at the opening of the General Assembly in September, when 
presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from nearly every country 
gather at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Haq said the secretary general’s office “wanted to take this 
opportunity to welcome this vital report,” which he added “will be a 
valuable contribution to the U.N. as we work towards a significant new 
set of U.N. actions.”

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