Haiti: US grants UN immunity in cholera suit

On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity," Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.

The suit, Delama Georges, et al, v. United Nations, et al, was filed in October 2013. The plaintiffs' attorneys argued that the UN was not entitled to immunity under the 1946 convention because the world organization failed to meet its obligation under the convention to establish a settlement process for the victims. A number of legal experts agreed with the plaintiffs' position, filing three amicus curiae briefs with the court and arguing in support of the plaintiffs at a hearing in October 2014. The UN has never admitted its responsibility for the cholera outbreak and didn't respond to the suit; the US government argued on the UN's behalf. According to Haitian rights lawyer Mario Joseph, the president of the Bureau of International Lawyers (BAI), Oetken's ruling "implies that there is nowhere in the world [the victims] can turn to seek justice. That is irreconcilable with their human rights and basic notions of justice." (IJDH press release, Jan. 9; Reuters, Jan. 10)

At least 8,774 Haitians had died of the cholera epidemic by Jan. 8, according to the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Some 14,000 or more were sickened by the disease in 2014, and 243 died that year. The amount of money required for a program for the eradication of cholera in Haiti is estimated to be $2.2 billion; the amount pledged so far is $50 million. (Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, CEPR, Jan. 8)

Arnel (or Anel) Alexis Joseph, the controversial president of the Superior Council of the Judicial Branch (CSPJ), offered his resignation on Jan. 7, as was recommended on Dec. 9 by an 11-member "consultative commission" that President Michel Martelly set up to resolve a political impasse; terms are set to expire for one-third of Haiti's senators on Jan. 12, leaving the Senate without a quorum and possibly creating a constitutional crisis. Other people that the commission asked to resign, including former prime minister Laurent Lamothe and the members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), had already complied. The Senate called for Joseph's resignation back in 2012 on the grounds that he was past the maximum legal age for the post. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Jan. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 11.