A judge is currently considering whether the United Nations can be sued over allegations that its peacekeepers in Haiti are responsible for the country’s worst cholera epidemic in recent history. CCTV America’s U.N. Correspondent Liling Tan reports.
At a hearing at U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Thursday two sides argued the merits of a lawsuit filed by a group of Haitian and Haitian-Americans against the United Nations, the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken will decide whether to throw out a lawsuit or allow it to go to trial.
The hearing was the first action since the case was filed in October 2013. It’s also an important one because arguments on both sides address a very fundamental question of whether the U.N. is immune to lawsuits.
“We argued today that the United Nations cannot enjoy immunity in this suit when the United Nations is responsible for the death of over 8,500 people and over 700,000 people who have been injured,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, an attorney with Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
The plaintiffs are blaming U.N. peacekeepers for spreading cholera, and they seek remedies for personal injury or death in the worst cholera epidemic in modern times.
The question of U.N. immunity will determine whether the case can go to trial. Lawyers from the U.S. government, acting on behalf of the U.N. as its host country, argued for the case to be dismissed under U.N. immunity laws.
However, lawyers for the Haitian groups argued that because the U.N. failed to comply with its obligations, it left them with no choice but to seek justice in court.
“The UN has refused to comply with those obligations… They have rejected the claim that we filed directly with the U.N. They have refused to establish a claims commission, and under all of those circumstances, the U.N. cannot enjoy immunity in this case,” Lindstrom said.
The case dates to 2010 when Haitians who were barely recovering from the 2010 earthquake, were further devastated by a cholera epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later provided strong indication that U.N. peacekeepers were the source of the outbreak. However the U.N. denied any link and its own investigation into the cause was inconclusive.
The lawsuit was among several others filed against the U.N. after the organization said it would not compensate Haiti’s cholera victims.