Columns

This woeful public silence on UN decision against Haitians

ANALYSIS

Rickey Singh

Sunday, April 07, 2013    

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IT'S now more than six weeks since it became public knowledge for the governments and people of our Caribbean Community that the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, had conveyed the very shocking decision to the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, of the world body's rejection of compensation claims affecting some 5,000 Haitian cholera victims.

But to this day, as far as this columnist is aware, there has been no official public reaction to the UN's callous position to evade its moral responsibility and to summon, instead, to its rescue "legal immunity" against the compensation claims by these Haitians, who are also citizens of Caricom.

The cholera epidemic has already killed an estimated 8,000 Haitians, with approximately 200 new cases being reported daily as of last month.

Except for the former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson, who has often served as a Caricom special adviser on Haiti, there continues to be a deafening public silence, all around officialdom within our 15-member community, starting from President Martelly. Why?

President Martelly, at least, would be in possession of the dossier submitted back in November 2011 to the UN secretary general's office by the Boston-based human rights organisation, Institute for Justice and Democracy.

What makes this situation even more dreadful is the general awareness, beyond our Caribbean region, that there exists scientific evidence of the cholera epidemic being linked to UN peacekeeping soldiers from Nepal serving in Haiti two years ago.

As Mr Patterson, also a leading member of the region's legal profession, told me in a telephone interview last month, "It is simply appalling, a most reprehensible behaviour for the UN to claim immunity against compensation, the moreso when scientific evidence substantiates that the cholera epidemic was originally introduced in Haiti at the time by peacekeeping soldiers from Nepal under UN command..."

Shocking public silence

Well, having kept his public silence since learning from Ban Ki-Moon of the rejection of compensation claims, it was felt that President Martelly would have taken the opportunity of his official two-day visit to Guyana last month — primarily to meet with Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque and the general staff — to at least offer a brief public comment on the painful, controversial stand by the UN.

No such luck. While, as I have learnt, he did express personal "appreciation" for the public stance adopted by Mr Patterson and promised to "engage" with the UN on the non-compsensation decision, President Martelly opted to maintain his public silence when he flew out of Guyana, and there have been no media reports out of Port-au-Prince of his disclosing any specific initiative to engage the UN on a seemingly callous disregard for the plight of the Haitian cholera victims.

This is all the more insensitive when the president of Haiti ought to know that for a grave human rights issue such as this, the preferred option should at least be a public statement of concern in favour of the rights of the cholera victims.

Certainly not public relations talk about "engagement" with the UN and unwillingness to say even that much publicly before returning to Haiti. As far as is known, he is still to engage with interested parties such as the Institute for Justice and Democracy. This is not a matter for quiet diplomacy.

It's a time for governments (including Jamaica's) and leading non-governmental organisations of our region that really care about basic rights to be crying "shame" on the UN.

They can perhaps join with, for instance, Myrtha Désulmé of the Jamaica-Haiti Society in urging that "justice be done" .

In a recent statement shared with regional colleagues, Ms Désulmé recalled scientific evidence offered in a "study" made available in August 2011, that compared the "genomes of bacteria from Haitian cholera patients with those found in Nepal around the time in 2010 when UN peacekeepers left their country for Haiti..."

The horrific problems of Haiti's social infrastructure were known before the unprecedented earthquake disaster of January 2010 and which had further complicated the country's dreadful health threats.

Further, the decision-makers at the UN who may have influenced rejection of the humanitarian claims on behalf of Haitian cholera victims would also have been sufficiently sensitised to reports claiming "reckless disposal of waste into Haiti's large water system by peacekeeping foreign soldiers".

In the circumstances, while President Martelly, whose Government is desperate to receive all the foreign aid it could garner for Haiti, appears to be playing footsie with the UN on the issue, there seems no valid reason for prevailing public silence by member governments of Caricom.

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