Human rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the UN seeking compensation for the families of thousands of Haitians who died of cholera as a result of sanitation lapses at a UN camp.
The class action claim comes days before the UN formally renews the mandate of MINUSTAH — the French acronym for the mission in Haiti — after a troubled decade keeping the peace.
Sloppy sanitation at a MINUSTAH base is blamed for starting the outbreak, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives and infected 700,000 people — one out of every 16 Haitians. UN peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, brought a South Asian strain of the disease to Haiti, which had been free of it for 200 years.
The claim was filed at the federal district court in Manhattan by an activist group of US-based lawyers: the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), its Haitian partner Bureaux des Avocats Internationaux and a prominent Florida civil rights law firm.
IJDH lawyer Beatrice Lindstrom said a case of this scale against the UN was unprecedented in the US and that she hoped the court would set aside the UN’s traditional immunity.
The UN argues it has legal immunity from such compensation claims and has formally rejected claims from affected Haitians.
However, this week UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay made a rare case for compensation for the victims.
“I still stand by the call that those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation,” she said.
The case is the latest in a string of bad publicity for MINUSTAH. Peacekeepers have also been accused of numerous instances of rape and sexual abuse — most recently, an alleged assault by a Sri Lankan soldier last month.
Lieutenant General Edson Pujol, commander of the force, denied that MINUSTAH had been discredited by the scandals.
“We continue with our mission of support and stabilization,” he said.