Monday, October 14, 2013

Haiti vs. the UN: Cholera Edition

Haiti's lawsuit against the United Nations might be actually getting off the ground--but can it?

For those not in the know, Haiti has been experiencing a devastating cholera epidemic since the earthquake of 2010. Cholera was eliminated in Haiti centuries ago, but has reappeared in Haiti ever since a UN peacekeeping mission from Nepal neglected to build proper sanitation and waste management systems on its campsite, allowing cholera-infected waste (yep, poop) to seep into a nearby stream--a stream that happened to be a tributary for the Artibonite River, a major source of water for many Haitians. Cholera spread quickly through the country thanks to poor living conditions in displaced-persons camps and lack of access to water caused in part by the earthquake. The disease is now endemic in the Haitian population and has killed at least 8,000 people and infected 650,000. The UN discouraged the investigation of the source of the disease and has not accepted responsibility for the spread of the disease, nor has it issued an apology to Haitians. Haiti is now seeking billions of dollars in compensation from the UN, all of which will go to paying for damages and building up infrastructure.

This is where things gets tricky. Under current international law, the UN is immune from legal proceedings within a country's court systems. In this case, the UN refuses to address the damages done to Haiti and Haitians, claiming that this case should be considered in terms of public policy, not law--and the UN will not intercede in a country's public policy. Past cases against the UN held in US courts have been dismissed using the Convention that grants the UN immunity from the law. But despite this precedent and the UN's assertions that it will not pay damages to Haiti, human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against the UN in New York this week.

So what next? Where does this leave Haiti, or the epidemic? Can an international organization be immune from the law? Does the UN get to make the rules up as it goes along to protect itself and its employees? One thing is for sure: this case is sure to be interesting. Keep your eyes on this case; it might just spur some much-needed change in the international community.


~*~ Brienne ~*~

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