Children suffering from cholera symptoms in Port-au-Prince, Nov 2012 (Photo: CP/Dieu Nalio Chery)
In 2010, a deadly cholera outbreak struck Haiti, a country that was already reeling from the effects of a magnitude 7 earthquake. To date, the cholera epidemic has killed more than 8,300 people and sickened more than 650,000 (as of this January, more than 6 per cent of Haitians had contracted the disease).
Today, lawyers with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) launched a lawsuit against the United Nations, asserting that members of the organization's peacekeeping force were responsible for introducing the disease. The suit demands a $100,000 compensation for each person who died and $50,000 for each person who became ill.
Various forensic studies — including one ordered by the U.N. — have identified the type of cholera that caused the outbreak as an Asian strain imported to Haiti by Nepalese members of the U.N. peacekeeping force known as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
The new lawsuit isn't the first time advocates for the victims of the cholera outbreak have brought a complaint against the U.N. In November 2011, 5,000 victims of the outbreak filed a claim for compensation.
The U.N. responded in February 2013, stating that "the claims are not receivable" because of the organization's diplomatic immunity. According to the New York Times, the same immunity may prevent the lawsuit brought by the IJDH from being heard, since the court "affords broad latitude to diplomatic protections for the U.N. against such litigation."
A new statement from U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq makes no comment on the lawsuit, but says the U.N. is committed to helping Haiti overcome the epidemic.
“The United Nations is working on the ground with the government and people of Haiti both to provide immediate and practical assistance to those affected and to put in place better infrastructure and services for all," Mr. Haq said in the statement.
Lawyers for the victims say they chose to sue after the U.N. rejected previous claims for compensation, BBC reports.
"The U.N. refused to even consider them. We then felt we had no choice but to file in a national court," Brian Concannon, director of the IJDH in Haiti, told BBC.
In 2012, our show visited Haiti to survey the situation in the country two years after the earthquake struck. You can watch our Haiti Special right here.
For another view of the cholera outbreak, check out the documentary Baseball in the Time of Cholera. One of the doc's producers, Olivia Wilde, talked about the project in the red chair.