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U.N. Claims ‘Legal Immunity’ In Case Seeking Compensation For Haiti Cholera Outbreak; Ban Reiterates Commitment To Eliminating The Disease

“The U.N. has taken the rare step of invoking its legal immunity to rebuff claims for compensation from 5,000 victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic, the worst outbreak of the disease in modern times and widely believed to have been caused by U.N. peacekeepers importing the infection into the country,” the Guardian reports (Lall/Pilkington, 2/21). “In November 2011, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed a petition at U.N. headquarters in New York seeking a minimum of $100,000 for the families or next-of-kin of each person killed by cholera and at least $50,000 for each victim who suffered illness or injury from cholera,” Reuters writes, noting the disease “has killed some 7,750 Haitians and sickened almost 620,000 since October 2010” (Nichols, 2/21). U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky “said on Thursday that the global body had told lawyers the damages claim was ‘non-receivable’ under a 1946 convention laying out the U.N.’s immunities for its actions,” Al Jazeera states (2/22).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “in a telephone call to Haitian President Michel Martelly, informed him of the decision and reiterated the U.N.’s commitment to eliminating the disease in Haiti, Mr. Nesirky added,” the U.N. News Centre reports. “‘Since the outbreak began in 2010, the United Nations and its partners have worked closely with the people and Government of Haiti to provide treatment, improve water and sanitation facilities and strengthen prevention and early warning,’ he noted,” the news service writes, adding that Ban in December 2012 launcheda U.N. initiative for the elimination of cholera in Haiti (2/21). Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and a co-counsel for the claimants, said, “We’re disappointed because the U.N. is passing up a chance to stop cholera’s killing, and to show leadership in promoting the rule of law,” the Associated Press reports, noting he “said the institute’s next step will be to go to a national court to seek compensation for the victims, ‘but we haven’t decided which one yet,’ possibly in Haiti, the United States or Europe” (Lederer, 2/21).