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U.N.’s Legal Immunity, Refusal To Compensate Haitians For Cholera Claims ‘Cheapens Its Larger Mission’

Noting the U.N. last week “announced that Haitian claims for compensation weren’t receivable under article 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations,” Armin Rosen, a writer and producer for The Atlantic’s international channel, writes in an opinion piece in the magazine, “If a multinational corporation behaved the way the U.N. did in Haiti, it would be sued for stratospheric amounts of money.” He states, “The U.N. and its leadership won’t have to worry about any of this. But maybe it should,” and he discusses the legal basis for agency’s “immunity within the American legal system.”

“The U.N. has decided that the Haitian complaint isn’t receivable because it deals with a matter of U.N. policy and not a private law claim. … No external actor can force the U.N. to change its mind,” Rosen writes. “One might hope that the U.N., which was founded to ‘reaffirm faith … in the dignity and worth of the human person,’ would be less mercenary in its concerns,” he continues, adding, “The U.N. undoubtedly benefits from its legal immunity — and since immunity is the price of a functioning international system, so does the world at large.” He continues, “But when an organization dedicated to the rule of law is itself immune from legal accountability, it can’t help but cheapen its larger mission, as well as the quality of its work,” concluding, “The U.N. has a troubling recent history of behaving as if it is above the law, perhaps because it is. The [cholera] epidemic reveals how far even the most well-intentioned organizations can drift when they aren’t subject to a hard external check, and how badly the U.N. is in need of mechanisms that will force it to do better” (2/26).