Groups: UN must provide ‘justice’ for Haiti cholera victims

Author: The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Five years after cholera started a deadly march across this poor Caribbean country, international and Haitian human rights activists asserted Tuesday that the U.N. is failing to provide justice for the many Haitians who have died or been sickened.

Since October 2010, cholera has killed roughly 9,000 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Scientific papers have suggested there is ample evidence to show that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal inadvertently brought cholera to Haiti after human waste was dumped in the country’s biggest river at that time, some 10 months after an earthquake devastated much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.

Amnesty International said Tuesday that the U.N. should properly investigate the ongoing epidemic’s impact and provide a plan to help victims who lost loved ones or who fell ill themselves after the disease raged through the country’s waterways and rapidly spread to all 10 administrative departments.

“The UN must not just wash its hands of the human suffering and pain that it has caused. Setting up general health programs and sanitation campaigns is important but not enough,” Amnesty said in a Tuesday statement.

On the grounds of a prominent human rights law firm in Port-au-Prince, similar calls were made by lawyers and a few dozen victims of the epidemic.

“I was very close to death after drinking infected water from the river near my home. It is not right that so many people died and were in such pain,” said 85-year-old Jean Saint Luc, who was sickened in Haiti’s Artibonite department in 2011 but recovered after eight days of treatment.

On Wednesday, activists will place portraits of cholera victims outside U.N. offices in Port-au-Prince, New York and Geneva to commemorate the thousands of Haitian lives lost from cholera.

The disease, spread by contaminated fecal matter, can be easily treated with rehydration or prevented outright by ensuring decent sanitation. But despite decades of development projects, many Haitians lack access to sanitation and clean water.

For years, the U.N. has declined to comment on lawsuits seeking compensation on behalf of Haitian cholera victims who blame peacekeepers for the epidemic, and a U.N. mission spokeswoman in Port-au-Prince did not respond to a Tuesday email for comment about the activists’ assertions.

The U.N. has repeatedly said it is committed to eradicating the disease from Haiti alongside the nation’s government.  A few years ago, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a $2.2 billion initiative to eradicate cholera from the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but the program has not attracted sufficient foreign donors.

A U.S. judge ruled this year that the U.N. is immune from a lawsuit seeking compensation. In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken noted that the U.N.’s charter provides broad legal immunity and it hadn’t waived it.

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