Haiti (2010)

Title: Haitians Attack U.N. Troops, Blame Them For Cholera
Date: November 15, 2010
Source: Reuters

Abstract: Protesters in Haiti who blame United Nations troops for a cholera epidemic that has killed hundreds attacked U.N. peacekeepers with rocks in two cities on Monday, raising questions about security ahead of presidential elections this month, authorities said.

In Haiti's second city of Cap-Haitien in the North, hundreds of protesters yelling anti-U.N. slogans hurled stones at U.N. peacekeepers, set up burning barricades and torched a police station, Haitian officials said.

"The whole city is blocked, businesses and schools have closed, cars have been burnt. It's chaos here," a businessman in Cap-Haitien, Georgesmain Prophete, told Reuters.

Adouin Zephirin, the government representative in Cap-Haitien, said some injuries were reported but no deaths.

At Hinche in the central region, demonstrators threw stones at Nepalese troops who have been the subject of widespread rumours that they brought to Haiti the cholera bacteria behind the month-long epidemic.

The U.N. mission in Haiti, which is helping the poor Caribbean country rebuild after a devastating January 12 earthquake, has denied rumours that latrines close to a river at the Nepalese U.N. camp were the cause of the cholera outbreak.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said DNA testing shows the cholera strain in Haiti is most closely related to a strain from South Asia. But it has not pinpointed the source or linked it directly to the Nepalese troops, whom the U.N. says tested negative for the disease.

The epidemic, which has killed more than 900 people and sickened close to 15,000, has inflicted another crisis on the Western Hemisphere's poorest state as it struggles to rebuild from the quake that killed more than 250,000. Fear, uncertainty and anger have swept the country already traumatized by the quake, which also left 1.5 million homeless.

Nevertheless, Haiti's government has not postponed presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November 28, which the more than 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the country is helping to organise and protect.

U.N. police spokesman Andre Leclerc said the U.N. peacekeepers in Cap-Haitien used tear gas to try to disperse the protesters.

"Right now, the streets are still blocked. There is no traffic," said government delegate Zephirin, who added authorities were working to clear the streets.

Crucial Elections
Joany Caneus, director of police for the northern region where Cap-Haitien is located, said the anti-U.N. demonstrators there set fire to the Pont Neuf police station.

"You can imagine how difficult it is when we cannot have the usual back-up of the U.N. troops, because they themselves are in difficulty," he told Reuters. He added the U.N. peacekeepers in the city had asked for a Haitian police patrol to be posted in front of their headquarters.

"So we don't only have to protect the population, we also have to protect U.N. troops ... We are working on ways to control the situation," Caneus said.

Leclerc said U.N. reinforcements were being sent to Cap-Haitien.

Last month, in the central town of Saint-Marc, at the heart of the cholera outbreak, stone-throwing local residents apparently fearing contagion disrupted the setting up of a cholera treatment centre, burning several tents.

This month's elections are due to elect a successor to President Rene Preval, a 99-member parliament and 11 members of the 30-seat Senate, choosing leaders to steer Haiti's recovery from the crippling quake that wrecked the capital Port-au-Prince.

Analysts say the elections could be the most important in Haiti's history, but many see the path to the polls threatened by risks of political violence, as well as the huge humanitarian challenges.

Experts say Haiti's widespread poverty and poor sanitation have been major factors in the rapid spread of the cholera epidemic, which has affected six of the country's 10 provinces. The last cholera epidemic in Haiti was a century ago.

But the experts say it is difficult to trace the source of the outbreak with certainty, or determine how it had re-entered the country after such a long absence (Reuters, 2010).

Title: Haiti Cholera Victims Demand UN Compensation
Date: November 9, 2011
Source: BBC

Abstract: The UN is facing claims for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from Haitian cholera victims.

Several studies have found that cholera was probably brought to Haiti by UN peacekeepers from Nepal.

The US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the demand on behalf of some 5,000 victims.

It says the UN mission in Haiti failed to screen peacekeepers for cholera and allowed untreated waste from a UN base to be dumped into the main river.

It also says the UN mission failed to respond adequately to the outbreak.

The demand would be looked at by the "relevant parts of the UN system", spokesman Martin Nesirsky said.

The UN was working "to do everything possible to bring the spread of cholera under control, to treat and support those affected by cholera and ultimately to eradicate cholera from Haiti," he said.

More than 6,500 Haitians have died of cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health, and nearly 500,000 have been made ill.

'Public apology'

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) - a Boston-based human rights group - is demanding $50,000 (£31,000) in compensation for each sick person and $100,000 (£62,000) for each death.

As well as individual damages, it also wants a public apology and an adequate nationwide response - including medical care, clean water and sanitation infrastructure.

The group says it is prepared to go to court in Haiti or the US if the UN does not respond.

"It is time for the UN to step up and do the right thing," IJDH director Brian Concannon said.

"The majority of our petition's facts come from UN reports. The UN developed much of the law we cite," he said.

"Our clients are challenging the institution to act consistently with what it knows to be true and just".

UN report on Haiti's cholera epidemic - drawn up by by independent experts and published in May - found that the outbreak was the result of a "confluence of circumstances" rather than the fault of a group or individual.

But it strongly suggested that the disease was introduced by UN peacekeepers from Nepal living on a base where poor sanitary conditions allowed human waste to enter the Artibonite river system.

A report by the US Center for Disease Control also linked the outbreak to Nepalese troops.

The cholera epidemic provoked widespread demonstrations against the UN mission, which has been in Haiti since 2004.

Haitians have little natural resistance to cholera, and the waterborne disease spread rapidly in a country whose already poor infrastructure was shattered by the January 2010 earthquake (BBC, 2011)

Title: Cholera Fallout: Can Haitians Sue The U.N. For The Epidemic?
Date: December 13, 2011
Source: TIME

Abstract: Cholera hit Laurent Jacnel on a Sunday night last June. He was at home, in a Port-au-Prince tent camp for Haitians displaced by the February 2010 catastrophic earthquake, with abdominal pain so severe he refused the dinner his wife cooked and went straight to bed. By 6 a.m. the next morning he was being rushed to the hospital with acute vomiting and diarrhea. Jacnel, 23, a mason, recovered after eight days of treatment, but he says, "I haven't felt normal since. I became weak. There were heavy jobs I could do before, but now I'm not able to." His wife, a street merchant, struggles to bring in enough money to feed them and their young son.

So last week Jacnel trekked to a downtown legal office with a copy of his government ID in hand. He'd heard about a group of lawyers called the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), who along with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti are suing the United Nations for allegedly introducing cholera into Haiti in late 2010 — and are seeking $50,000 for each victim, double that for families of those who died from the illness. The suit represents one of the largest claims for damages ever brought against the U.N., leading victims like Jacnel to the door of BAI lawyers like Mario Joseph, one of the lead attorneys on the case, in droves. "We submitted 5,000 [claims] to the U.N." last month, says Joseph, "but we have close to 15,000 [total] by now."

The U.N. has acknowledged the suit but says it will not comment. Apart from damages, the petition also requests that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, publicly accept responsibility for bringing in the cholera bacteria via a unit of Nepalese soldiers. To date the disease has killed more than 6,900 Haitians and infected more than half a million.

The question of who is responsible for Haiti's cholera epidemic — the first that the Caribbean nation, the western hemisphere's poorest, has seen in a century — has raised tempers since the first case was detected in October 2010. Rumor spread quickly afterward that the unsanitary conditions at the Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers's base, located northeast of Port-au-Prince, was at fault. Scientific studies later seemed to confirm those suspicions. The U.N. deflected blame to a local contractor, Sanco Enterprises, responsible for waste disposal at the base; but Sanco denies culpability, insisting it was just following MINUSTAH guidelines. Even an independent report commissioned by the U.N.'s Secretary General noted "haphazard" shower and latrine piping, potential overflow from an open septic pit and numerous other opportunities for contamination of the nearby water system. But it refused to cite blame for the cholera outbreak. "That's the real scandal to me," Joseph says, "that the U.N. isn't assuming responsibility."

Just getting the U.N. to respond to victims' claims will be difficult. Under the agreement signed by Haiti and the U.N. at the start of MINUSTAH's mandate in 2004 (in the wake of deadly political violence that led to the ouster of then President Jean Bertrand-Aristide), U.N. military personnel enjoy immunity from Haitian criminal charges. A Standing Claims Commission is supposed to be the mechanism for hearing civil cases like the cholera claims — but in the seven years since MINUSTAH arrived in Haiti, that three-person commission has, inexplicably, never been established.

That's why, a few blocks from the BAI's offices, Haitian lawyer Patrice Florvilus is taking a different tack. Florvilus and two other attorneys, along with civic activist groups, have formed the Community Mobilization for Reparations of Cholera Victims, which is preparing to sue MINUSTAH not via the U.N. but in the Haitian courts. The Haitian judicial system "has a duty to press the U.N. on this issue," says Florvilus. "If the [Haitian] state does not want to cooperate, we will say that [it] is complicit with MINUSTAH." The next step, then, would be to sue the Haitian government, which Florvilus complains has been far too silent on the cholera issue. BAI's Joseph agrees, saying that his group too had considered legal action against the government. "The state invited these international organizations," he says. The government did not respond to TIME's request for comment.

What all the victim advocacy groups agree on, however, is that the U.N. and the Haitian government at the very least must act on recommendations in the U.N.-commissioned report. Among them: that they invest more heavily in proper infrastructure for potable water and sanitation throughout Haiti, that they step up programs to supply oral rehydration serum to combat cholera, and promote better hygiene, water delivery and waste collection in densely populated areas. "The U.N. has a moral responsibility," says Joseph, acknowledging that the Haitian government doesn't have the resources to accomplish the reforms alone. "I think the construction of [potable water] infrastructure is the minimum."

But the reality is that the U.N. "cluster system" in Haiti, responsible for coordinating projects in water, sanitation and other sectors, will soon be scaling down. And with international funding for cholera programs now actually declining and many NGOs leaving Haiti altogether, it's unclear whether the need that groups like the BAI cite will ever be met. At the same time, the sense of urgency may be waning as well. Current Haitian cholera mortality rates are low, at about 1.3%. And while there was a spike in new cases this past October, the start of the dry season in Haiti has brought a decline in the infection rate.

Still, the numbers are expected to jump again once the rains return next year. "Cholera is going to be here," says Emmanuelle Schneider, spokesperson for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Haiti. "It's going to be here as an epidemic for the next two years, and then it will probably go into an endemic phase." But unlike the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people, it's almost certain that someone was responsible for the cholera outbreak — and many Haitians believe someone should be held accountable for heaping a debilitating public health crisis on top of one of history's worst natural catastrophes (TIME, 2011)

Title: Clinton: UN Soldier Brought Cholera To Haiti
Date: March 8, 2012
Source: Al Jazeera

Abstract: Bill Clinton, the UN's special envoy to Haiti, said on Wednesday that a member of the global organisation's peacekeeping force was probably responsible for bringing cholera to the Caribbean country, but may not have known that he was doing so.

Clinton was asked after a hospital tour if he agreed with a statement by Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, about holding accountable those who brought cholera to Haiti.

Studies have suggested that peacekeepers from Nepal probably introduced the disease to Haiti for the first time, months after the January 2010 earthquake.

"First of all, the United Nations has spent a great deal of money in Haiti," Clinton told reporters. "Secondly, I don't know that the person who introduced cholera in Haiti, the UN peacekeeper, or soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus."

Clinton added: "It was the proximate cause of cholera. That is, he was carrying the cholera strain. It came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti, into the bodies of Haitians."

But Clinton added that what "really caused" the cholera outbreak was the country's lack of proper sanitation.

"Unless we know that he knew or that they knew, the people that sent him, that he was carrying that virus and therefore that he could cause the amount of death and misery and sickness, I think it's better to focus on fixing it," Clinton said.

The former US presidentmade the remarks after he toured a new hospital in the Central Plateau region.

'Confluence of factors'The UN responded to Clinton's comments by saying: "The Secretary-General set up a panel of experts regarding the cholera outbreak. Their conclusion was that it was not possible to be conclusive about how cholera was introduced into Haiti, that the cholera outbreak was caused by a confluence of factors, and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of a group or individual.”

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and one of the lawyers who has filed claims against the UN on behalf of cholera victims, put the blame on the UN.

Concannon told Al Jazeera: "The proximate cause of the epidemic are the UN and they are to blame."

The cholera outbreak prompted a Haitian law firm and its international partner to file a complaint against the UN last year on behalf of the victims, which is under review by the world body's legal office.

Cholera has killed more than 7,000 people and made more than 526,000 others sick since it was introduced to Haiti in 2010, according to Haitian health officials (Al Jazeera, 2012)

Title: Cholera Case Against UN Stalls In Haiti
Date: July 19, 2012
Source: Global Post

Abstract: Over 15,000 Haitians have banded together in a legal case against the United Nations, alleging that troops brought the deadly disease to Haiti during a post-earthquake relief effort.
Is it possible for Aristide Mojes, a short Haitian man with grizzled hair, to win a lawsuit against the United Nations and MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping forces in his country?

Mojes, a cholera victim who spent five days in the hospital to survive the diarrheal bacterium, and the UN, a conglomeration of 193 countries that will spend $793 million on MINUSTAH this year, might appear to be a mismatch. But Mojes is not alone.

With over 7,000 dead and annual epidemics after the rainy season, more than 15,000 cholera-affected Haitians joined together to file a legal complaint against the UN on November 3, 2011. The case asserts that UN troops from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti when their sewage contaminated a tributary of the Artibonite River in October 2010. Asked what he hopes for from the case, Mojes said, “Make the damages better.”

Now, seven months after the complaint was filed, their case sits idle because the UN denies responsibility for bringing cholera to the country. So, where will Mojes and his fellow Haitians go now? When it comes to the largest international organization in the world, one built on the shoulders of almost every country in the world, there is no appeals court: there is no higher governing body.

 “In many ways, cholera is more a justice issue than a medical issue. You don’t get cholera unless you are poor — unless you don’t have access to clean water,” said Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

Clean water is not easy to find in Haiti, which ranked dead last out of 147 countries in the Water Poverty Index completed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. IJDH works with Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), to reach out to victims of cholera in Haiti and build their case. In the legal vernacular of the case, IJDH and BAI accuse the UN of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and gross indifference.

The cause of the stagnation is the Status of Forces Agreement, signed between UN forces and its host nation, which shields the UN from legal accusations. The formal caveat in the Status of Forces Agreement is a Standing Claims Commission to hear the cases of victims of wrongdoing (it works for everything from cholera to car wrecks) — but the UN must approve the commission.

 “The UN has never responded fairly to accusations of large-scale wrongdoing,” said Concannon, because the UN has never opened a standing claims commission in any country, ever.

“Because there is no claims commission it is hard to work because you have victims but you cannot go through the process,” said Joseph.

Concannon says the only two ways to get around the rules is to try to get into national court or to apply public pressure on the UN to pay attention to the accusations.

In regards to public pressure, Concannon and Joseph may just get the boost they need. Award-winning directors David Darg and Bryn Mooser made “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” which won a Special Jury Mention at the Tribeca Film Festival and appeared online July 12, 2012.

After living in Haiti in the years following the earthquake, Darg and Mooser witnessed firsthand the impact of cholera on the tenuous stability of the country. Their film chronicles the hope and camaraderie Joseph Alvyns, a young Haitian, develops with his little league baseball team (the only one in Haiti) before he loses his mother to cholera. The film culminates in a call to action to support the case against the UN and features interviews with Concannon and Joseph.

While there is great opportunity for public pressure through this compelling film, the road for viral advocacy is laden with pitfalls and naysayers – most recently encapsulated by the Kony2012 campaign. Furthermore, while “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” hopes to sway public pressure in favor of the Haitian plaintiffs, its capacity to place pressure on the UN does not necessarily extend past this case. For Mojes and his fellow Haitians to rely on a viral advocacy campaign raises questions as to whether the current system of international justice is one where successful cases are determined by the social networking prowess of their supporters.

Concannon’s second option, the trial of the case in the formal legal system of Haiti or the United States, is equally problematic. The Haitian delegation can cite scientific studies performed by the Centers for Disease Control and epidemiologists to support their case, while the UN may counter with scientific studies by the University of Maryland that suggest cholera was a natural part of Haiti’s ecosystem long before the outbreak.

Courtroom posturing aside, if the case wins, what happens then? In the last few decades, groups like the International Law Association pushed for more stringent structures to encourage accountability, but these were never realized.

There is no formal enforcement or monitoring system for a case like this. There is no precedent that indicates what a victory in national court actually implies in terms of a UN response. But then again, there has never been a case with so many plaintiffs. Finally, if the UN does institute a Standing Claims Commission, the fate of men like Aristide Mojes returns to the UN system.

Mario Joseph worries that Haitians will not have their voices heard.

“It’s not only about what happened," he says. "There is a lack of justice” (Global Post, 2012)