Haitian Cholera Victims Sue for Redress
by Stephen Lendman
Long-suffering Haitians know adversity and anguish as well as anyone.
Except briefly after their 1804 revolution and under Jean-Bertrand Aristide, they’ve been denied legitimate governance, freedom, equity and justice. For over 500 years, they’ve suffered hugely.
They experienced enslavement, colonization, reparations, despotism, persecution, serfdom, exploitation, resource theft, embargoes, extreme poverty, starvation, disease, early death, immiseration, and dismissiveness of world leaders able to help.
Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. It has the highest infant mortality rate. It has the lowest life expectancy.
Haitians suffer largely out of sight and mind. Washington bears full responsibility. Imperial occupation persists. Proxy Blue Helmets enforce repression. They prevent democracy.
They’re responsible for Haiti’s devastating cholera epidemic. More on that below.
It erupted months after the most calamitous regional earthquake in over 200 years. It struck Port-au-Prince, surrounding areas, and other parts of the country. It did so on January 12, 2010.
Damage was staggering. Many thousands perished. Many more were injured and displaced. Millions of lives were disrupted. They still are. Haitians struggle to survive.
Cholera exacerbated their misery. It’s a disease of poverty. It’s manmade. It’s an intestinal infection. It’s caused by contaminated food or water, poor sanitation, improper elimination of human waste and willful negligence.
Symptoms include uncontrollable diarrhea, intestinal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Early death follows without proper treatment.
Haiti’s cholera was imported. Tests confirmed it’s a South Asian strain. Nepalese Blue Helmets based in Haiti’s Artibonite region introduced it.
They bear full responsibility. Artibonite is one of 10 Haitian administrative regions. It’s in Haiti’s northwest. It’s 62 miles north of Port-au-Prince. It’s the country’s main rice-growing area.
It’s the dominant food staple. Haiti was self-sufficient for over 200 years. More recently, imports outpaced domestic production.
Artibonite’s outbreak raised suspicions. Contaminating the area created greater potential for US imports. They’re heavily subsidized.
Dumping makes them cheaper than domestic supplies. Doing so makes Haitian producers noncompetitive. It shuts them out. It drives them out of business. It lets US agribusiness displace them.
Artibonite hosted thousands of earthquake victims. River water was contaminated with raw sewage. It contained the South Asian cholera strain.
Was its presence accidental, negligence or willful sabotage? Infected water causes disease. It kills.
Epidemic conditions persist. It continues killing around 1,000 Haitians a year. Officially over 8,300 died. Perhaps many other deaths weren’t counted. At least 679,000 were infected.
Blue Helmets bear full responsibility. Haitians want justice. Cholera is manmade disease. It’s entirely preventable.
Haiti was spared for generations. They were cholera-free until Blue Helmets showed up.
On October 9, lawyers representing the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), and Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt (KKWT) filed a class action suit.
They did so on behalf of all Haitian victims. BAI Managing Attorney/co-counsel Mario Joseph said:
“The filing of this lawsuit marks a critical step towards justice for Haiti and all those who have suffered and are suffering because of cholera.”
IJDH spokeswoman Beatrice Lindstrom said plaintiffs are five families of victims.
“We are asking for the judge to find the United Nations liable. It has violated its legal obligations through reckless actions that brought cholera to Haiti,” she explained.
Brian Concannon is IJDH director. He’s co-counsel with Joseph.
“The Plaintiffs have undergone indescribable suffering as a result of cholera and have to live with the knowledge that cholera can strike again,” he said.
“They have rights to have a Court hear their case and rights to damages that will help them go on with their lives and access clean water.”
A 67-page complaint
was filed in US Southern District of New York federal court. It includes damning evidence.
It shows reckless/perhaps willful negligence. It reveals irresponsible disregard for human health and well-being.
Plaintiffs seek justifiable damages. They want them for personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of property and natural resources, as well as breach of contract.
According to KKWT attorney Ira Kurzban:
“We anticipate that the UN will seek to avoid responding to the evidence presented by the victims by arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.”
“We are prepared for that challenge, and are confident that the court will find that the case must proceed because the victims have a recognized right to access courts that must be protected.”
Under international laws, treaties and conventions, the UN is legally obligated. It’s required to pay fair compensation. People its operations harmed are due redress.
So far, the world body stonewalled. In November 2011, IJDH, BAI and KKWT filed claims on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims.
In February 2013, the UN ignored them. A statement attributable to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
“(T)he United Nations advised the claimants’ representatives that the claims are not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.”
In other words, the world body accepts no responsibility for what its Blue Helmets caused.
Haitians are out of luck. They’re on their own. Dozens keep dying monthly. World body officials don’t give a damn. They serve wealth, power and privilege. They do so at the expense of popular interests.
It’s longstanding UN practice. People most vulnerable are exploited and harmed. Blue Helmet occupiers terrorize Haitians. Infecting them with cholera killed thousands. Criminal prosecution should follow.
The class action complaint
charges Ban Ki-moon and former Under-Secretary-General for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Edmond Mulet. It states in part:
(1) Class action followed the October 2010 cholera outbreak.
(2) It “resulted from the negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct of the Defendants: the United Nations (‘UN’); its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (‘MINUSTAH’); and at least two of their officers.”
(3) Before October 2010, Haiti reported no cholera cases for generations.
(4) Defendants knew “Haiti’s weak water and sanitation infrastructure created a heightened vulnerability to waterborne disease, but failed to exercise due care to prevent the devastating outbreak of such disease.”
(5) “Defendants knowingly disregarded the high risk of transmitting cholera to Haiti when, in the ordinary course of business, they deployed personnel from Nepal to Haiti.”
They did so knowing Nepal is plagued by cholera. “Defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to test or screen the personnel prior to deployment.”
They negligently (and perhaps willfully) let them introduce cholera into Haiti.
(6) Nepalese Blue Helmets were deployed along the Meille Tributary. It flows into the Artibonite River. It’s the “primary water source for tens of thousands.”
“Defendants discharged raw sewage from poor pipe connections, haphazard piping, and releases of water contaminated with human waste.”
“They also regularly disposed of untreated human waste in unprotected, open-air pits outside the base where it flowed into the Meille Tributary.”
“Defendants’ sanitation facilities and disposal pits overflowed in heavy rain, emitted noxious odors, and exposed the local community to raw sewage.”
(7) Defendants knew their negligence caused contamination. They took no preventative measures.
They acted with reckless disregard for human health, safety and welfare. Their actions caused a raging cholera epidemic. They bear full responsibility.
(8) Human waste contaminated the Meille Tributary. It flowed into the Artibonite River.
It caused “explosive and massive outbreaks of cholera along the river and eventually throughout the entire country.”
(9) “Defendants recklessly failed to take remedial steps necessary to contain the outbreak of cholera, willfully delayed investigation into the outbreak, and obscured discovery of the outbreak’s source.”
Cholera remains an ongoing grave threat. Haitians continue getting infected. Dozens die monthly.
(10) Plaintiffs and many others “they seek to represent have been proximately harmed through Defendants’ acts and omissions.”
Their family members were or will be infected. They died or will succumb. The UN bears full responsibility.
(11) It’s legally obliged to provide redress. “The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN of 1946 (‘CPIUN’) expressly requires Defendant UN to provide appropriate modes of settlement for third-party private law claims.”
“The Status of Forces Agreement (‘SOFA’) signed between Defendant UN and the Government of Haiti expressly requires the UN to establish a standing claims commission to address claims for harm.”
UN officials duck their legal obligations. They’ve done so throughout months of occupation.
They’ve done it since Haiti’s earthquake. Introducing cholera made devastating conditions worse.
Plaintiffs seek justifiable compensation. Long-suffering Haitians deserve it and much more.
They want freedom from militarized occupation. They want responsible governance.
They want ruthless exploitation stopped. They want a living wage. They want crushing poverty ended. They want other vital needs addressed.
They want what Washington won’t permit. Liberation remains a distant dream. Maybe some day. Not now.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.