This past Monday the Haiti Advocacy Working Group hosted a panel on the cholera epidemic, introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, that has killed almost 8500 Haitians to date.
The panel included Jonathan Katz, the journalist who broke the story that the UN peacekeepers were likely responsible for the epidemic, Yale Law professor Muneer Ahmad, who supervised the Peacekeeping Without Accountability report, and Dr. Jean Figaro, a member of the Haitian diaspora and Director for the “Kolera Jistis Project.”
The panelists have all concluded that the UN is responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, which experts have traced to Nepalese soldiers and inadequate sanitation disposal on a UN base near a major Haitian water source. The UN, in response, has asserted international immunity - an action considered wholly inadequate and even insulting.
The Yale Law report addresses this point of immunity by looking to the UN’s contract, where the UN agreed to construct a judicial council to hear grievances from Haitian citizens and other actors in Haiti. The UN itself added this in order to have an avenue of accountability for the Haitian people. However, they never established such a judicial board in Haiti, nor have they ever done so in any of the other countries where it is included in their peacekeeping contracts. The UN broke their contract, ignoring this part but claiming international immunity from another part. How can the UN claim immunity that is guaranteed in a contract they themselves breached?
Fundamentally, the UN is present in Haiti to promote human rights, which under their own definition includes the right to life. Yet they are responsible for the death of almost 8500 Haitians and counting. The UN is directly undermining its own mission along with its reputation. By ignoring their accountability, the UN is only insulting the same people they claim to be serving.
Haitians and many within the international community are calling for the UN to acknowledge their fault and take steps toward reparations. Some in Congress are sending a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, urging the UN to take accountability for cholera in Haiti.
The United States is the largest funder of the UN. Dr. Figaro ended the panel by solemnly asking us to think what our individual roles are, as U.S. citizens, within this episode. Let’s reject the UN’s inaction and make sure that our role is one of justice seeking and solidarity with our Haitian partners.