Montreal

UN link to Haiti cholera epidemic adds to mistrust, Haitian-Montrealer says

Trust in the United Nations mission in Haiti has taken another blow after researchers traced the cholera outbreak to a UN base, one Haitian-Montrealer says.

Haitian-Montrealers among those launching class-action lawsuit on behalf of 770K people affected by outbreak

A demonstrator spray paints the message in Creole "We demand justice for all cholera victims" outside United Nations headquarters to protest the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 2015. (Dieu Nalio Chery/The Associated Press)

A Haitian-Montrealer says trust in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti has taken another blow after researchers traced the cholera outbreak to a UN base.

After years of denying responsibility, the UN acknowledged it needed to do "much more" to address its "own involvement" in the outbreak, which has affected over 770,000 people and claimed more 9,200 lives since 2010.

Prior to this recent outbreak, which was likely caused by UN peacekeepers from Nepal, cholera had not been documented in Haiti in almost 100 years.

"The secretary-general deeply regrets the terrible suffering the people of Haiti have endured as a result of the cholera epidemic," read a statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, released Friday.

Jean Fils-Aimé says the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti has failed to meet one of its most basic requirements: protecting Haitians. (CBC)

"The United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims of the cholera epidemic and for supporting Haiti in overcoming the epidemic and building sound water, sanitation and health systems."

But Haitian-Montrealer Jean Fils-Aimé says the UN has failed to fulfill one if its most basic duties.

"When we make the inventory of what the UN has done in Haiti, it's everything except protecting the population," said Fils-Aimé, programming director of the Montreal radio station CPAM.

Fils-Aimé and other members of Montreal's Haitian diaspora are among those who have launched a class-action lawsuit against the UN and the Haitian government on behalf of families who lost someone as a result of the epidemic.

"Because the state of Haiti doesn't take any responsibility, you have to repair the damage by giving the family something," he said.

The UN pledged $2.27 billion in 2012 to help eradicate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but with only $307 million received so far, the ambitious 10-year plan is severely underfunded.
Haiti President Michel Joseph Martelly, left, meets United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October 2015. Members of Montreal's Haitian disapora and others have launched a class-action lawsuit against both the Haitian government and the UN, which faces an uphill battle due to the latter's diplomatic immunity. (The Associated Press)

Not the first legal battle

The latest lawsuit launched by Fils-Aimé and others isn't the first to attempt to bring the UN to court.

In January 2015, a U.S. court ruled the organization could not be sued because it had diplomatic immunity, which only it could waive.

When we make the inventory of what the UN has done in Haiti, it's everything except protecting the population.- Jean  Fils-Aimé , director of programming at Montreal radio station  CPAM

A U.S. federal appeals panel is now considering whether the class-action lawsuit can go forward.

The UN has indicated it will continue to claim diplomatic immunity.

Instead, it has urged its member states "to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Haiti by increasing their contributions to eliminate cholera and provide assistance to those affected."

With files from Ainslie MacLellan, the Canadian Press and Reuters