Science & Technology

UN Being Sued Over Causing, Covering Up Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

UN peacekeepers from Nepal stationed near a river introduced a disease that hadn't been observed on the island in centuries


choleratcha later
US Navy

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed between 100,000 and 300,000 people, destroying a lot of infrastructure in the capital of Port Au Prince and the surrounding area, as well as the presidential palace, the National Assembly building and the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, established in 2004.

The United Nations also deployed thousands of peacekeepers in the aftermath of the earthquake, and a contingent from Nepal is widely believed to have introduced cholera to an island that hadn't seen the disease in centuries. That outbreak ended up spreading to the neighboring Dominican Republic as well as Cuba and Venezuela, killing 8,500 people and infecting upward of 650,000 Haitians. Despite multiple studies linking the outbreak to a group of UN peacekeepers, the United Nations has resisted taking responsibility. Now, the organization is claiming legal immunity in the face of a lawsuit. NBC News reports:

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the advocacy group that will file the suit Wednesday, first tried to file a claim with the U.N. in 2011. The United Nations did not respond for more than 15 months, but then invoked a sweeping immunity from nearly all legal claims that dates back to its founding. Though the U.N. has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease, it has not indicated a willingness to settle individual claims from victims.

"We felt it would be much easier to resolve this out of court, to spend less money on lawyers and litigation and more money on stopping cholera in Haiti," said Brian Concannon of the IJDH. "The U.N. refused to take that opportunity and left us no choice but to go to court."

The IJDH suit, however, goes beyond placing blame on the U.N., accusing the international body of covering up its role in introducing the disease.

"Because no one was telling anyone the truth," claimed Concannon, "there (were) a lot of people who were getting sick."

The UN's cover up included falsely claiming the Nepalese UN peacekeepers (based near a river that served as a source of drinking water) all tested negative for cholera at the beginning of the outbreak, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in a Manhattan federal court today. No dollar amounts have yet been mentioned, and while the IJDH admits the UN has never lost a lawsuit in court, it says the evidence of wrongdoing has never been so clear.

h/t Jose Luis