Though the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti (herein referred to as MINUSTAH) is internationally viewed as a great aid to Haiti in theory, it has been anything but that in practice. Today was a reminder of why most of us on this mission chose law as the vehicle to affect social change in this world. We worked with the Bureas de Avocats Internationaux (herein referred to as BAI). That is the law firm in Haiti established by the founders of the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti in the United States (herein referred to as IJDH). Currently, the firm is working on the cholera litigation. According to webmd.com, the major symptom of cholera is massive watery diarrhea that occurs because of a toxin secreted by the bacteria that stimulates the cells of the small intestine to secrete fluid. In short, the disease dehydrates you and can be deadly if untreated.
The cholera outbreak in Haiti has claimed the lives of over seven thousand Haitians and sickened nearly a half million and counting. Recently, the IJDH brought a petition to the United Nations, seeking financial compensation for the victims of the disease. The suit alleges that the United Nations, through its deployment of its Nepalese troops, brought cholera to Haiti back in 2010. Though Nepalese troops had been in Haiti for at least six years prior to the outbreak, new troops entered in 2010. In Nepal during 2010, there were 300 cases of fatal cholera. It is possible to have cholera without exhibiting symptoms. As a result, the petition states that the United Nations was negligent in, among other things, not adequately testing the Nepalese troops for cholera prior to their stationing in Haiti.
As we went through the boxes of documents we realized that the more than five thousand named plaintiffs in the lawsuit each had individual faces, names, and stories. To have injured hundreds of thousands of Haitians, especially after the January 2010 earthquake, seems to support what most Haitian locals told us about the U.N., “they are not wanted and have harmed more than helped our country’s poor.” Among the remedies sought by the petition is damages for survivors of cholera, damages for the families of those who have deceased from the disease, funding for a new water irrigation system for the country to control the endemic, and most of all an apology from the U.N. However, there are some obstacles.
The petitioners are limited to a civil suit since the agreement signed for MINUSTAH has a criminal immunity clause. There is recourse through a committee that is supposed to hear complaints against MINUSTAH, but that committee was never set up. That means since 2004 there has been no accountability for MINUSTAH. Hopefully, at minimum the committee can be established and the U.N. can issue an apology for its role in bringing cholera to the already decrepit country of Haiti. With Harvard scientists, among others, linking the cholera strain in Haiti to the one in Nepal, there is little doubt as to the U.N.’s responsibility in the matter.
Larry R. Daniels III