Lawyers file appeal against US judge ruling on cholera cases

Friday, June 05, 2015

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BOSTON, United States (CMC) – Lawyers representing a number of Haitian cholera victims have filed an appeal against a ruling by a US judge that the United Nations is legally immune from prosecution.

The Haitians had taken the UN to court accusing it of being responsible for the outbreak of the cholera epidemic that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people on the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.

They claimed that the disease entered the country through the Nepalese peacekeeping forces.

But in his ruling on January 9, this year, Federal Judge J Paul had ruled that the United Nations was legally immune from prosecution for importing cholera into Haiti.

Judge Oetken heard oral arguments on October 23, last year. The UN never showed up, while US government lawyers argued for their immunity from the lawsuit.

In their 62 page appeal, the lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the San Francisco-based Center for Law and Global Justice, and the Miami-based firm of famed immigration lawyer argued that Judge Oetken erred in ruling that the UN and its military force, the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), were immune “despite having violated their treaty obligation to provide a mode to settle private law claims”.

They are also arguing against the ruling that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and former MINUSTAH chief Edmond Mulet “are entitled to immunity in this case simply because they ‘hold diplomatic positions.’” The lawyers said that by granting these immunities, Judge Oetken was violating the plaintiffs’ “constitutional rights to access the federal courts.”

Cholera is a water-borne bacteria which principally spreads via sewage. In October 2010, cholera-infected Nepalese MINUSTAH soldiers allowed feces from their out-houses to flow into the headwaters of Haiti’s largest river, the Artibonite, used for drinking, washing, and irrigation.

The disease rapidly spread throughout the country, and, in the past five years, some 740,000 Haitians have been infected, resulting in 8,927 fatalities as of the latest count in April 2015.

The lawyers argue that rather than undertaking a bona fide investigation and containing the disease, the defendants responded by covering up key evidence and misleading the public about the UN and MINUSTAH’s responsibility.

“Despite clear knowledge of the substandard sanitary conditions of the (Nepalese soldiers’) Meille base, Defendants repeatedly denied any connection to the outbreak and refused to conduct, or to allow others to conduct, a timely investigation.

“MINUSTAH also issued several statements asserting that all Nepalese soldiers deployed to Haiti in October 2010 underwent medical testing and that none tested positive for cholera when, in fact, no such tests were conducted. Despite privately acknowledging that the statements were false, Defendants never retracted them.”


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