Lawyers representing over 5,000 Haitian cholera victims are suing the United Nations and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for bringing the disease into their country. The cholera epidemic resulted in more than 475,000 registered cases of sickness and over 6,000 deaths. They say MINUSTAH brought cholera into Haiti in October 2010.
The Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti (IJDH-BAI) is providing legal assistance. BAI stands for Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (international bureau of lawyers). BAI, located in Port-au-Prince, consists of trained Haitian lawyers who have spoken out on justice issues since 1995.
The Haitian cholera epidemic started at the end of October 2010 in the Artibonite Department of Haiti, a rural area approximately 60 miles (100km) from Port-au-Prince, the country's capital. Ten months earlier, a powerful earthquake had devastated the country. Within ten weeks of the initial outbreak, the disease had spread to all the country's 10 departments. By November the following year cases were being reported in neighboring Dominican Republic, as well as 1 in Florida, USA, and some in Venezuela.
The cholera epidemic in Haiti is not over.
Lawyers representing the Haitian victims say that the United Nations (UN) and MINUSTAH are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars because:
- Peacekeeping soldiers were coming into Haiti from countries that had a cholera problem. These soldiers were not adequately screened.
- Untreated wastes from a UN base were dumped directly into a tributary of the Artibonite, the country's longest and most important river.
- The UN did not respond to the epidemic adequately
- A public apology
- Individual compensation
- An adequate nationwide response by the United Nations. This must include medical treatment for sick people today, future victims, clean water, and sanitation infrastructure.
"This is an opportunity for the United Nations to demonstrate that its stated ideals of eliminating disease and encour¬ag¬ing respect for rights are not just empty promises."
IJ DH Director, Brian Concannon, said:
"The majority of the petition's facts come from UN reports. The UN developed much of the law we cite. Our clients are challenging the instit¬tion to act consistently with what it knows to be true and just."
According to some media reports, such as CNN, those who became ill are demanding $50,000 each, while those who lost loved ones demand $100,000.
Written by Christian Nordqvist