In court, Haiti learns about privilege

January 15, 2015

It hasn’t been a great week for Haiti.

Monday marked five years since a 7.0 earthquake killed some 220,000 people and left 1.5 million displaced. Horrible news became worse later that year, as a catastrophic cholera outbreak hit the country. As this Reuters graphic shows, the epidemic started quickly in October, 2010, after UN peacekeepers from Nepal are thought to have contaminated the Artibonite River, Haiti’s biggest. In the first few months, tens of thousands were infected each week, and the epidemic has since persisted at an attenuated rate, with 8,775 dead and 719,650 sickened as of December 6, the date of the last reliable figures.

According to a 2011 report in the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, “medical journals and other sources do not show evidence that cholera occurred in Haiti before 2010, despite the devastating effect of this disease in the Caribbean region in the 19th century.” That same year, a panel of four experts absolved the UN of responsibility for introducing the epidemic. Unsatisfied Haitians took to the courts, but late Friday a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan ruled that Haiti can’t sue the United Nations for a the outbreak. Thanks to the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, “the U.N. is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity,” wrote Judge J. Paul Oetken wrote.

Haiti is still struggling to rebuild, and tens of thousands remain homeless after billions of dollars in aid has been squandered. Last week’s court decision can only underscore that sad legacy.


Cholera in Haiti

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