Haiti cholera scandal ‘the UN’s Watergate’, says body’s own human rights adviser

Haiti Cholera

Haiti Cholera

The UN’s refusal to accept responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti six years ago, leading to the deaths of more than 9,000 people, is a scandal on the same scale as Watergate, the organisation’s own human rights adviser has told FRANCE 24.

The comparison was made by Philip Alston, professor of law at NYU and the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who labelled the UN’s “explicit and unqualified denial” of being behind the outbreak “a disgrace” in a scathing report presented to the intergovernmental body on Tuesday.

“The situation is completely clear: that the UN was responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti, but the formal position adopted is that ‘we are not culpable’ and that is a scandal comparable to Watergate in my view,” Alston told FRANCE 24.

The still ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti, the first to hit the country in more than 100 years, began in 2010, shortly after a vast earthquake devastated the country killing tens of thousands and leaving infrastructure in ruins.

It is widely believed that the disease was brought to the country by a team of infected Nepalese peacekeepers stationed in the country, though the UN has asserted that a “confluence of factors” is to blame for the outbreak.

“They’ve been hiding behind that for ages now, but all the evidence shows incontrovertibly that that’s nonsense,” Alston told FRANCE 24.

“The only factor is that these peacekeepers from Nepal arrived with cholera and the excrement was dumped in the river.”

$400 million support package but no apology

Alston’s outspoken comments come as the UN hashes out details of a $400m (366m euros) package to aid victims of the cholera outbreak .

Dr David Nabarro, the British physician appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to lead the organisation’s response to the cholera epidemic, said the package would fund a two-track approach.

Half the money would go towards treatment and measures to stop the spread of cholera, Dr Nabarro told FRANCE 24, and the other towards what he called a “support package” – essentially compensation for victims and their families.

The UN will still likely need to depend on voluntary contributions from its members to raise the funds.

“With anything that the UN does we can develop good plansk, but we need to raise the money to implement those good plans because we don’t have the cash reserves here,” said Dr Nabarro.

But despite the relief efforts and the fact Ban has admitted the UN has a “moral” obligation to help Haiti’s cholera victims, the organisation has stopped short of formally apologising or admitting legal accountability.

It has also invoked its right to immunity from lawsuits in order to prevent victims suing for compensation. A US federal appeals court upheld the United Nations’ right to immunity in August.

“If the United Nations bluntly refuses to hold itself accountable for human rights violations, it makes a mockery of its efforts to hold governments and others to account,” Alston said in the report.