UN Official Calls for Cholera Compensation; UN Cholera Coordinator is Interviewed; Insider Tells of UN Cholera Cover-up

March 05, 2014

Last month, the U.N. Independent Expert of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallon, released his first report since taking over his post. As the BBC reports, Gallon called for “full compensation” for those who have been victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. Gallon added that, “The diplomatic difficulties around this question have to be resolved to stop the epidemic as soon possible and pay full compensation for suffering experienced,” adding that “It is advisable to shed light on what really happened and to punish those responsible, whoever they may be.” Finally, Gallon stated that the U.N. “should be the first to honor” these principles. As the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), points out, Gallón has become “first to make the demand [for compensation] in a publicly available official UN document.”

However, while the human rights expert Gallón encouraged compensation, the U.N. itself has continued to evade responsibility. After the U.N. dismissed claims against it brought on behalf of over 5,000 cholera victims, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt filed a lawsuit in October 2013 against the U.N., MINUSTAH and two officials on behalf of the victims. In a press release concerning Gallón’s report, IJDH notes that:

Gallón’s report comes as the deadline to answer the lawsuit has lapsed for MINUSTAH and the individual defendants. The UN itself has failed to respond to a motion that service of process is complete.

“The defendants’ failure to accept service or to respond to the lawsuit continues the UN’s pattern of avoiding justice despite its clear-cut responsibility for the epidemic,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel and IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom. Amidst reports that the UN has asked the U.S. government to defend its position, the United States is currently weighing whether to take a position in the lawsuit by their March 7 deadline.

When the U.N. was asked about Gallón’s report, the response from Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was typical of the way the U.N. has handled media requests on the cholera epidemic:

The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that.

The U.N. has also sought to deflect criticism and separate the legal issues from the current response on the ground. In a long interview by former AP correspondent Jonathan Katz, the U.N. Senior Coordinator for the Cholera Response in Haiti, Pedro Medrano stated:

[W]e have two things here: I am not dealing with the legal issue; I am dealing with the response. We will have plenty of opportunities to continue to discuss the legal issue. But at this stage … when we have an epidemic like this, which is the largest in the whole hemisphere, we need to deal with the response.

But, as Katz reports, there has been little movement forward on the 10-year $2.2 billion cholera elimination plan that the U.N. “put its name on in December 2012.” Of the estimated $448 million needed for 2013 and 2014, less than 50 percent has been mobilized. Katz reports that overall, just $180 million has thus far been disbursed. Medrano’s staff later told Katz that the amount of funds committed to the project is “vastly insufficient to meet urgent needs.”

When Katz inquired as to why the U.N. was unable to come up with more funds for the cholera response, Medrano stated that “Major donors think this is not an emergency anymore.” Katz then pressed, asking if it was “possible that part of the reason why other donors aren’t coming forward is because they think that it should be the UN’s responsibility to pay for the cleanup?” Medrano stated that “The resources we have [are] a function of how much support we get from the member states,” adding that, “In a way, we [the U.N.] are a reflection of what the international community wants us to do in Haiti.” The interview concluded with Medrano telling Katz, “certainly it was never the intention of the United Nations to bring cholera in Haiti.”

The issue of cholera and U.N. responsibility also came up in a recent interview of former Organization of American States representative Ricardo Seitenfus. The interview, conducted by Dan Beeton and Georgianne Nienaber and published in Dissent, contains numerous revelations from the former insider, Seitenfus. For example, he states that:

There is no doubt that the fact that the United Nations – especially Edmond Mulet and Ban Ki-moon – systematically denied its direct and scientifically-verified responsibility for the introduction of the Vibrio cholera into Haiti, projects a lasting shadow over that peace operation. What is shocking is not MINUSTAH’s carelessness and negligence. What is shocking is the lie, turned into strategy, by the international community. The connivance of the alleged “Group of Friends of Haiti” (integrated at first by Argentina, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Chile, the United States, Guatemala, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, as well as Germany, France, Spain and Norway, in their role as Permanent Observers before the OAS) in this genocide by negligence, constitutes an embarrassment that will forever mark their relations with Haiti.

Seitenfus adds:

With the contempt for Haitian constitutional rights and for the legal principles that govern the Law of Treaties, the United Nations demonstrated, once again, the constant levity with which it treats Haitian matters. Responsible for establishing the rule of law in the country, according to its own mission, the U.N. does not follow even its own fundamental provisions, thus making the text that it supports and that should legalize its actions in Haiti void and ineffective.

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