U.N.’s Refusal To Take Responsibility For Haitian Cholera Damages Its Moral Credibility

Highlighting a report in which “researchers from Yale University added their voice to the growing chorus calling upon the United Nations (U.N.) to respond fairly and justly to the cholera epidemic it recklessly caused in Haiti in 2010,” as well as “an article [.pdf] written by the scientists appointed by the U.N. to investigate the source of the epidemic,” Beatrice Lindstrom, a human rights lawyer, and Adam Houston, a global health and human rights specialist working with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, write in the Huffington Post’s “World” blog, “These two documents, and the widespread international coverage they have received, bolster a broad, informal network of scientists, lawyers, human rights activists, grassroots leaders, victims groups, and government officials calling upon the U.N. — the organization founded with the purpose of promoting justice and human rights around the world — to practice what it preaches in Haiti.” They add, “As yet, however, the U.N. continues to turn a deaf ear to these calls, to the detriment of both Haiti and the organization itself.”

Lindstrom and Houston provide an overview of the epidemic, writing, “Despite conclusive evidence that the epidemic originated at the U.N. [peacekeeping] camp, the U.N. has refused to accept responsibility.” They write, “The U.N.’s mishandling of the cholera situation has unraveled to a point where, as the Yale report puts it, ‘the United Nations violates the very principles of accountability and respect for law that it promotes worldwide.'” They continue, “For the victims of the epidemic, the consequences are real and devastating,” and “while the U.N. has argued that meeting their liabilities for the cholera epidemic could set a precedent that would be too costly and undermine future missions, the repercussions of avoiding responsibility are far greater.” They conclude, “For an organization that depends on moral credibility to push its mission of promoting human rights for all, the implications of ignoring its own values are severe and far-reaching. It means that the next time the U.N. tries to spread its message, people may simply stop listening” (8/19).

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