The United Nations’ refusal to admit full responsibility for the years-long cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 9,000 lives in Haiti is a debacle that it has a duty to correct, a UN expert has said. The world body admits that it is morally bound to help Haiti deal with the deadly outbreak, which is blamed on UN peacekeepers who were sent to the Caribbean country after the 2010 earthquake.
But it denies being legally responsible and has ignored lawsuits filed by victims that have been rejected in US courts after the UN invoked diplomatic immunity. Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, on Tuesday described the refusal to acknowledge responsibility as “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, politically self-defeating and entirely unnecessary.”
Alston said the world body must set up a procedure to settle claims by the families of thousands of victims killed by cholera. Alston was addressing a General Assembly committee as the United Nations prepared to roll out an aid package of about USD 200 million to help the families of cholera victims. The United Nations “must turn the Haiti debacle into a success story,” he said, adding that it must also urge member states to make generous contributions to the trust fund set up for Haiti’s cholera victims.
Haiti is facing the worst epidemic of cholera in the world, with some 500 cases a week of the potentially fatal bacterial infection. It witnessed a new spike in cases after Hurricane Matthew struck early this month, leaving thousands of people without access to clean water. About 9,300 people have died of cholera and 800,000 have been affected since the outbreak in 2010.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has expressed regret but has not formally apologised for the disaster, is due to unveil the aid package for Haiti in the coming weeks. “The organisation’s legal position does not prevent us from taking effective steps for addressing the issue of cholera in Haiti,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He said the United Nations was acting with compassion and showing solidarity.
UN envoy David Nabarro, fresh from a fact-finding mission to the country, said this week the storm had made action all the more urgent. “The hurricane has created a new set of dangers because in the communities affected the risk of cholera is high,” he warned.
At least 546 people died and more than 175,000 people were displaced when the powerful storm crashed ashore in southwestern Haiti on October 4.