U.N. Must Bear Responsibility For Haiti’s Cholera Epidemic

“It is now all but certain that Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000, is directly traceable to a battalion of U.N. peacekeepers who arrived in the country after the 2010 earthquake,” a Washington Post editorial states, highlighting a report (.pdf) from researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale Law School that it says “details the convincing epidemiological evidence, as well as the United Nations’ stubborn disavowal of responsibility.” The newspaper writes, “The United Nations and its peacekeepers have done immeasurable good in Haiti and elsewhere, but in this instance they bear responsibility for unleashing one of the world’s most devastating recent epidemics.”

“Until now, the United Nations has asserted and enjoyed what amounts to blanket immunity from claims arising from its peacekeepers’ actions,” the newspaper notes, adding, “Given the range of nations, conflicts, disasters and chaotic environments in which U.N. personnel are deployed, the institution needs some protection from lawsuits and other claims for damages arising from its operations.” However, the editorial states, “immunity in the courts, which the United Nations has enjoyed, does not justify a policy of institutional indifference.” The newspaper continues, “That obligation goes beyond the legally tangled question of paying reparations to thousands of potential claimants in Haiti and the obvious need to ensure that U.N. installations and contractors meet higher standards of hygiene and sanitation. It involves the United Nations and its major donors, including the United States, adding resources to help Haiti build lasting improvements to its feeble public health system” (8/11).