The United Nations Comes Clean

After the Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

Evenel Dorvilier rests on a stretcher in the Cholera Treatment Center of Diquini in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 28, 2016. Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters

On August 18, the United Nations finally bowed to international pressure and acknowledged what even its internal experts have long maintained: its peacekeeping troops brought cholera to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti, triggering an epidemic that, by an official count, has sickened 800,000 and killed at least 10,000. The real toll is likely far higher, and the disease, not previously reported in Haiti, is now considered endemic. The United Nation’s mea culpa is a step in the right direction, but the victims’ long struggle for justice is not over.

When the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced “its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera,” the body pledged to provide “material assistance” to the victims. According to the Jonathan Katz of The New York Times, who broke the story linking the UN peacekeepers to the cholera outbreak and has followed it closely since, the admission was prompted by a draft confidential internal report penned by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He had concluded that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations,” and excoriated the world body’s lack of response since the epidemic began in 2010 as “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, and politically self-defeating.”

“In Haiti we say ‘viktwa se pou pep la’—victory is for the people,” Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, said in a statement after the UN announcement. His bureau has led the global campaign on behalf of the victims, first within the UN system and when that failed, in court. “This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the UN and bringing the UN to court.”  

Although lawyers for the victims have hailed the groundbreaking admission, they are cautious and have vowed to fight on until the crisis is remediated and the victims made whole. “The UN must follow this announcement with action, including

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