Haiti victims file cholera lawsuit against UN (Update)

October 9, 2013 by Jennie Matthew

Victims of a Haiti cholera epidemic Wednesday filed a lawsuit demanding compensation from the United Nations over an outbreak that killed more than 8,300 people.

The petition, filed on behalf of a sample group of five Haitians at the New York district court, said at least 679,000 other people had fallen ill with cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010.

There had been no cholera in Haiti for at least 150 years until it was brought by UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal, lawyer Ira Kurzban told a news conference.

The United Nations said in February it was legally immune from action over the epidemic and a spokesman said Wednesday that comments from previous months still stood.

Spokesman Farhan Haq said of the lawsuit: "The UN remains committed to do all it can to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic.

"It is not UN practice to discuss in public claims filed against the organization."

The New York court now needs to decide whether the case can go ahead. The lawsuit has been filed in the city where the United Nations is headquartered.

New York also has a substantial Haitian community.

The source of the cholera epidemic was traced to a river that runs next to a UN camp in the central town of Mirebalais, where Nepalese troops had been based.

The strain of cholera the deeply impoverished Caribbean nation is the same as one endemic in Nepal.

"The outbreak resulted from the negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct of the defendants," said a copy of the petition seen by AFP.

It lists the defendants as the United Nations, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and at least two of their officers.

"We feel in this lawsuit we're going to win," Kurzban told reporters.

"This is a unique set of circumstances for which the United Nations cannot behind the shield of immunity."

The US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which is representing 8,000 victims and families of those who died, says cholera continues to kill about 1,000 Haitians a year.

In May, the victims gave the United Nations a 60-day deadline to reach a compensation deal or face a lawsuit.

Lawyers at the time sought $100,000 for the family of each victim who died and $50,000 for each survivor, which could take the claim into several billion dollars.

On Wednesday IJDH spokeswoman Beatrice Lindstrom told reporters it would up to the jury to set the limits of the compensation figure in court.

The epidemic dealt a new blow to Haiti as it struggled to overcome the strife caused by a January 2010 earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

The UN said in February that the complaint from victims' lawyers was "non-receivable" under a 1946 convention setting out the UN's immunities for its actions.

In December, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a $2.2 billion appeal, however, to raise money to provide clean water and health facilities in Haiti.

Kurzban accused the United Nations of stonewalling and said it had failed to meet fundraising goals on efforts to provide clean water and proper sanitation in Haiti.

He said lawyers would fight to the end and appeal if the New York district court dismisses the case.

"We're certainly going to continue to fight this case. We believe very strongly in the principles of accountability for the United Nations," he said.

Lindstrom said that studies had shown it would take 10 years and $2.2 billion to bring an end to cholera.

The petition said the Haiti epidemic had also resulted in additional cholera cases in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the United States, at least.

Explore further: UN chief tells US it will combat cholera in Haiti

Related Stories

UN chief tells US it will combat cholera in Haiti

July 6, 2013
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told members of the U.S. Congress Friday that the United Nations is committed to helping Haiti overcome a cholera epidemic even though it is refusing to pay compensation to victims who blame ...

UN rejects Haiti cholera damages claim

February 21, 2013
The United Nations on Thursday formally rejected a multi-billion-dollar damages claim for a cholera epidemic in Haiti that has been widely blamed on UN peacekeepers.

UN chief names special advisor for Haiti cholera

December 29, 2012
The UN chief on Friday named a US health expert as special advisor in fighting Haiti's cholera epidemic, which has claimed more than 7,750 lives and is widely blamed on UN peacekeepers.

Study: UN should be accountable for Haiti cholera (Update)

August 6, 2013
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti should be held accountable for introducing cholera into the Caribbean nation, a Yale University report said Tuesday.

UN launches major cholera appeal for Haiti

December 12, 2012
The United Nations on Tuesday launched a $2.2 billion appeal for a campaign to halt a cholera epidemic in Haiti, widely blamed on UN peacekeepers, which has killed more than 7,750 people.

Haiti cholera death toll nears 7,000: expert

January 6, 2012
Nearly 7,000 people have now died from cholera in Haiti in an epidemic which has become one of the worst of recent decades, a top health official said Friday.

Recommended for you

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

Best of Last Year – The top Medical Xpress articles of 2016

December 23, 2016
(Medical Xpress)—It was a big year for research involving overall health issues, starting with a team led by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health who unearthed more evidence that ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.