Haitians rage as UN rejects payout for cholera victims

Survivors of epidemic, which has killed 8,000 people, condemn ‘immoral’ decision to claim immunity

Thousands of Haitian victims of a cholera epidemic widely believed to have been caused by United Nations peacekeepers vowed to continue their fight to hold the UN to account after it rejected their claims for compensation, citing diplomatic immunity.

More than 8,000 Haitians have died from the epidemic and 500,000 people, some 5 per cent of the population, have fallen sick since the disease entered the impoverished Caribbean nation’s water system in October 2010.

The claims were filed on behalf of 5,000 victims filed in 2011 by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based human rights group. In its response to the claims, published this week, the UN said “the claims are not receivable, pursuant to Section 29 of the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations”.

The UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had telephoned the Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision. “The Secretary-General again expressed his profound sympathy for the terrible suffering caused by the cholera epidemic,” Mr Nesirky said.

Ira Kurzban, one of the claimants’ lawyers, condemned the decision. “We believe that it’s quite immoral for the Secretary-General to deny all responsibility, not even to admit that they were the cause of the worst cholera epidemic in the world today,” Mr Kurzban said.

“What happens now is we begin to decide where we are going to sue the United Nations. We believe that the Secretary-General has to be held accountable, they have to accord with the rule of law, and that accountability will either be decided in a court of law or in the court of public opinion.”

Although Haiti has suffered from disasters and epidemics of many varieties, it had been spared cholera for more than 200 years until the arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers in the Mirebalais region, north of Port-au-Prince, in 2010. Part of the UN “stabilisation force” Minustah, which has been stationed in Haiti since a coup d’état in 2005, they moved into a base within a few metres of the narrow Meille river, a tributary of the Artibonite, the country’s largest waterway.

Cholera is endemic to the Indian subcontinent, and Nepal had suffered a fresh outbreak shortly before the battalion set off for Haiti. As successive investigations have concluded, the peacekeepers’ base was not provided with efficient sanitation, and soon contaminated waste began flowing into the Meille river, the main source of drinking water for nearby villagers. Tuné, a farmer nearby, described how his son contracted the disease soon after drinking from the river. “Suddenly he started shaking. We rented a motorcycle to get him to a hospital quickly. They gave him one bag of IV fluids, then another one. On the third and final one he died.”

Lacking a modern water and sanitation system, most Haitians depend on rivers for all their water needs, and soon the disease was rampaging through the country.

The UN initially denied all responsibility, but in 2012 released a report admitting “the strains [of cholera] isolated in Nepal and Haiti were a perfect match”. But the report went on to argue that “a confluence of factors” was behind the epidemic, which was therefore “not the fault, or deliberate action, of a particular individual”. These factors, including “Haiti’s weak infrastructure”, were responsible for causing it.

But the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti described this as “a legally invalid defence. The weakness of Haiti’s health, water and sanitation systems were … well-known before the outbreak… Haiti’s vulnerability … made the cholera epidemic a directly foreseeable consequence of the UN’s reckless release of contaminants into Haiti’s waterways.”

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor