Cholera victims seek $250 M from U.N.

A woman holds her sick child as he receives treatment for cholera at a Doctors Without Borders, MSF, cholera clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

A Haitian human rights group is seeking at least $250 million in damages from the United Nations and its peacekeeping force in Haiti on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims.

The group, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which filed the claim on Tuesday accuses the peacekeeping force, known as MINUSTAH, of inadequate troop screening and improper sanitation that, the group said, had caused Haiti’s cholera epidemic.

“The cholera victims demand individual compensation, an adequate nationwide response by the U.N., and a public apology,” said IJDH in a statement.

“They insist that the nationwide response include medical treatment for current and future vic¬tims and clean water and sanitation infrastructure, the only solution to the cholera epidemic,” it added.

More than 6,600 people have died and nearly a half-million more have been sickened since the cholera outbreak began in October 2010.

The group also seeks establishment of a forum to hear its claims, which were filed with MINUSTAH’s claims office in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

United Nations peacekeeping missions generally have immunity from actions in national courts.

“The majority of the petition’s facts come from U.N. reports,” said Brian Concannon, IJDH’s director.

“The U.N. developed much of the law we cite. Our clients are challenging the institution to act consistently with what it knows to be true and just,” he added.

The petition claims that the U.N. and MINUSTAH are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for “failing to adequately screen and treat peacekeeping soldiers arriving from countries experiencing cholera epidemics; dumping untreated wastes from a U.N. base directly into a tributary of Haiti’s longest and most important river, the Artibonite; and failing to adequately respond to the epidemic.”

“This is an opportunity for the United Nations to demonstrate that its stated ideals of eliminating disease and encouraging respect for rights are not just empty promises,” said the group’s managing attorney Mario Joseph.

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