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Inside Story Americas

Haiti: Victimising the victims?

UN claims legal immunity and refuses to compensate Haitians over 2010 cholera outbreak, blamed on its peacekeepers.
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2013 08:48

The United Nations is refusing to pay compensation to the families of victims of the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak that was blamed on its peacekeepers. 

The outbreak brought devastation to a population already struggling to recover from the earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people earlier that year.

"It's troubling that the UN puts our claims in the box of public and policy issues, rather than private - more akin to a car accident. Because what we are saying is that the UN put contaminated water into Haiti's river system and if that's a matter of policy, that's troubling for the UN ... What they are doing is creating an exception that completely swallows the rule, and the rule is that people harmed by UN operations are entitled to compensation."

- Brian Concannon, lawyer for families of victims

For more than two years, the UN has been investigating the claims that its own peacekeepers started the cholera epidemic that killed almost 8,000 people and infected one in 16 Haitians.

Most scientists who have examined the case, including an expert panel commissioned by the UN itself, believe the evidence is overwhelming.

The UN, though, has never admitted that its forces - who were meant to be helping the local population - are to blame; nor has it apologised.

Now in a bureaucratically worded statement, the UN says it will not pay the compensation claims, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The world body cited a 1946 convention as the basis for its legal immunity, and said it is not bound to pay the claims.

Meanwhile in Haiti, the families of those who died in the outbreak are having to deal with the bombshell announcement.

Also in Haiti,  former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has defied a court order to attend a hearing. Haiti's Court of Appeal is determining whether Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, should face charges for human rights abuses during his rule. He is now required to appear in court next Thursday.

"The UN is claiming immunity [yet] the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) that was signed that led them to intervene in Haiti was illegal, because it was signed by a former UN employee and it was a de-facto government. So all UN operations in Haiti, we can also question the legality of it. Any way you turn it, if we go to a proper court, a proper judicial system, I think we can hold the UN to account for what they have done and for what they continue to do."

- Jean Yves Point Du Jour, Haitian radio host

Duvalier was named President for Life when he was only 19 in 1971 - after the death of his father Francois, known as Papa Doc.

Human rights groups say the Duvaliers used the paramilitary group the Tonton Macoutes to torture opponents and kill some 30,000 people during their combined 29-year rule.

During Baby Doc's 15 years in power, hundreds of political prisoners were allegedly tortured or disappeared in prisons collectively known as the triangle of death.

But a lower court judge ruled last year that Duvalier should be tried only on allegations of embezzling millions of dollars of government assets. The judge concluded that the statute of limitations on other charges had expired.

Survivors and rights groups argue that there is no statute of limitations when it comes to crimes against humanity.

To discuss the trials still plaguing Haiti, Inside Story Americas with presenter Shihab Rattansi is joined by guests: Brian Concannon, a human rights lawyer and director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the organisation that brought the claims of the cholera victims' families to the UN; Laurent Dubois, a professor of history at Duke University and author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History; and Jean Yves Point Du Jour, the host of weekly Haitian radio show Konbit Lakay.

The United Nations declined to take part in this discussion.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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