The UN introduced cholera to Haiti which caused the deaths of at least 9,000 (officially 9,000, unofficially about 30,000 and with a possibility of being up to 100,000 deaths). The UN culpability and incompetence is clear. The outbreak could have been prevented “if the UN had spent just $2,000 for advance health checks and preventive antibiotics for their troops from Nepal who carried the disease. The cost of the UN incompetence in addition to the 9,000 lives lost is now estimated to be over $2 billion”. But the UN denies responsibility. In March this year came reports that “the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has been chastised by five of the UN’s own human rights experts who accuse him of undermining the world body’s credibility and reputation by denying responsibility for the devastating outbreak of cholera in Haiti. In a withering letter to the UN chief, the five special rapporteurs say that his refusal to allow cholera victims any effective remedy for their suffering has stripped thousands of Haitians of their fundamental right to justice”.
The US has been supporting Ban Ki-moon both in his denial of responsibility and in his claim of immunity for all UN actions. “Naturally anybody on UN duty is immune from any prosecution – even for blatant incompetence or gross negligence”.
Now The Guardian reports that a bipartisan group of 158 members of Congress have criticised Obama for his stance:
A bipartisan group of 158 members of Congress has accused the Obama administration of a failure of leadership over the cholera scandal in Haiti in which at least 30,000 people have died as a result of an epidemic caused by the United Nations for which the world body refuses to accept responsibility.
A joint letter highly critical of US policy – and devastatingly critical of the UN – has been sent to the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signed by 12 Republican and 146 Democratic members of Congress. Led by John Conyers, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, and Mia Love, a Republican congresswoman from Utah, the letter’s signatories include many of the most senior voices on foreign affairs on Capitol Hill.
The missive takes the Obama administration to task for failing to admonish the UN for its refusal to accept responsibility for the cholera outbreak. “We are deeply concerned that the State Department’s failure to take more leadership in the diplomatic realm might be perceived by our constituents and the world as a limited commitment to an accountable and credible UN,” the letter says.
It continues: “We respectfully urge the Department of State to treat the issue of a just and accountable UN response to Haiti’s cholera with the urgency that 10,000-100,000 deaths and catastrophic damage to the UN’s credibility deserves.”
….. As part of the UN’s dogged denial of culpability, the organization has made a blanket rejection of calls for compensation contained in a class action lawsuit filed in New York by victims of the disaster. The world body is claiming immunity from damages in the case. The US government chose to represent the UN’s defense in the litigation in front of the federal second circuit appeals court. That prompted the three-member panel of judges to question US lawyers over the Obama administration’s apparent unwillingness to use its diplomatic muscle to force the UN to shift its contentious position. …..
With cholera still raging in parts of Haiti, and aid groups on the ground reporting ongoing suffering amid inadequate provision of medical help and sanitation, the Congress members called on the state department to “immediately and unreservedly exercise its leadership … Each day that passes without an appropriate UN response is a tragedy for Haitian cholera victims, and a stain on the UN’s reputation.”
Of course the US claims the same kind of immunity for its troops on active missions abroad (and the US has even tried to claim that kind of immunity for those accused of rape on Okinawa but had to give way eventually). So perhaps the Obama government’s defence of Ban Ki-moon is just a self-serving but unprincipled exercise to protect their own position regarding the responsibility of their troops when abroad.
But it is a shameful position.