Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston publishes unedited report on UN responsibility for cholera in Haiti

Full report available here.

From the report summary:

Cholera arrived in Haiti in October 2010, soon after the arrival of a new contingent of United Nations peacekeepers from a cholera-infected region.  The scientific evidence now points overwhelmingly to the responsibility of the peacekeeping mission as the source of the outbreak.  9,145 persons have so far died and almost 780,000 have been infected.

In August 2016, after a draft of this report was leaked to the media, it was announced that the Secretary-General is “developing a new approach which … will address many of the concerns raised in [this] report.” The Secretary-General (see Annex) has also reiterated that the UN has a “moral responsibility to the victims and will provide them with additional “material assistance and support.”  The Special Rapporteur warmly welcomes this initiative.

It remains indispensable, however, that the new process should also involve an apology entailing acceptance of responsibility and an acceptance that the victims’ claims raise private law matters, thus requiring the United Nations to provide an appropriate remedy.  Acceptance of these two elements would in no way prejudice the UN’s right to immunity from suit, and nor would it open the floodgates to other claims.

The UN’s legal position to date has involved denial of legal responsibility for the outbreak, rejection of all claims for compensation, a refusal to establish the procedure required to resolve such private law matters, and entirely unjustified suggestions that the UN’s absolute immunity from suit would be jeopardised by adopting a different approach.  The existing approach is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, and politically self-defeating.  It is also entirely unnecessary.  In practice, it jeopardizes the UN’s immunity by encouraging arguments calling for it to be reconsidered by national courts; it upholds a double standard according to which the UN insists that Member States respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself; it leaves the UN vulnerable to eventual claims for damages and compensation in this and subsequent cases which are most unlikely to be settled on terms that are manageable from the UN’s perspective; it provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that UN peace-keeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected; and it undermines both the UN’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.

The UN’s past policy relied on a claim of scientific uncertainty. That is no longer sustainable given what is now known.  The UN clearly was responsible and it must now act accordingly.