Lawsuit Filed Against U.N. In U.S. Court For Causing Cholera Epidemic In Haiti

| by Will Hagle

An estimated 8,300 Haitian people have died from cholera and hundreds of thousands more have suffered its debilitating effects since the bacteria began rapidly spreading throughout the country in 2010, at the same time the country was recovering from its large-scale, devastating earthquake. After investigations linked the source of the outbreak to a United Nations facility, an American-based group called The Institute For Justice And Development In Haiti has filed a claim in a U.S. federal court against the UN for bringing the cholera bacteria to the island nation. 

The case against the U.N. cites scientific reports that found the bacteria originated in leaking sewage from a U.N. base that housed “Nepalese peacekeepers,” according to CNN. The cholera disease quickly spread and caused an epidemic because the bacteria is not indigenous to the nation. 

Ira Kurzban, an attorney in the case as well as a board member for The Institute For Justice And Development In Haiti, claimed that the U.N. needs to take responsibility for the outbreak of cholera in the nation. “The claims are that the U.N. engaged in reckless and gross negligence and misconduct bringing cholera to Haiti,” Kurzban said. 

Others agree that the U.N. is likely responsible for the epidemic. Former AP journalist Jonathan Katz wrote a book-length investigative report on the topic entitled The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came To Save Haiti And Left Behind A Disaster. Because the strain of cholera detected in Haiti has origins in Nepal and the U.N. was housing Nepalese peacekeepers, Katz’ argument does appear strong. “The way we understand disease transmission today, there is no other good explanation for how a strain that was present only in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent traveled 9,000 miles to Haiti and happened to end up in a river next to a base with U.N. Keepers from Nepal,” Katz told CNN.

Despite the epidemic’s continuation throughout Haiti, the U.N. has done little to help solve the issue, aside from screening future peacekeepers for cholera. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has even publicly stated that the U.N. has legal immunity from providing monetary compensation to private claims. 

In spite of this bureaucratic roadblock, Laurent Lamonthe, the Prime Minister of Haiti, has continued to demand the U.N. to accept responsibility during General Assembly at the international organization.