A lawsuit has been filed in a New York Court by lawyers on behalf of the thousands of victims of a cholera epidemic who charge that it was caused by the United Nations. How will the United Nations and larger community respond?
The lawyers representing the victims are seeking to classify the case as a class action lawsuit and are asking for over 2.2 billion dollars in damages. The 2.2 billion dollars will be for the Haitian government to use in order to eradicate the disease. Unspecified damages are also being sought for those who fell sick and the families of those who died.
The lawyers charge that Nepali peace keepers brought by the United Nations brought the disease with them. The troops were then stationed near the Artibonite River where they discharged raw sewage into the local water system. This sewage was contaminated with cholera which then thrived in the river and began to infect Haitian citizens.
United Nation’s sanitation policies were reckless
The lawyers in the case charge that the United Nation’s sanitation policies were reckless. The agency knew or at least should have known that not providing for adequate sanitation facilities for their troops and workers would pose a substantial risk to the local population. By failing to provide such facilities, the UN acted in a neglectful manner and thus caused the outbreak.
International health experts have largely agreed with the assessment that the United Nations peace Keepers caused the outbreak. Most of the initial cases occurred in areas surrounding or downstream from the camp. Other evidence shows that the Nepali peace keepers were indeed dumping raw sewage into the river.
Cholera is a deadly bacterial born disease
Cholera is a deadly bacterial born disease that causes severe diarrhea and other stomach related problems. Most people who die from the disease die from complications due to dehydration. Before the outbreak in 2010, Haiti had not recorded any cholera outbreaks for over 100 years. This adds further evidence to the charges that the United Nations brought the disease to the city.
The outbreak has so far killed more than 8,000 Haitians and hospitalized hundreds of thousands more. Estimates run as high as 6 percent of the total population having contracted the disease at some point. The disease also spread to the Dominican Republic. The outbreak now largely appears to be under control.
The United Nations claims that it can not be sued for its actions. According to international law, the organization enjoys diplomatic immensity in such incidents and thus will not provide compensation. Since the outbreak, the agency has been laboring hard to bring the incident under control, however, many question if the United Nations ultimately did more harm than good in the country.
While the legal ramifications in this case are still vague, it is likely that a judge will toss the lawsuit before it gets very far. Generally speaking, the American legal system has respected and upheld international treaties. The United Nations would appear to have been granted immunity in its charter and thus is beyond the reach of American law. Complicating the case further is the simple fact that neither the plaintiff nor the accused are neither American citizens nor American organizations. Even if the courts do not immediately reject the lawsuit over the UN’s immunity claim, it may reject the lawsuits over jurisdiction.