BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson has blasted the decision by the United Nations to invoke "legal immunity" for rejecting compensation claims by some 5,000 Haitian victims of cholera.
"It is simply appalling, a most reprehensible behaviour... for the UN to claim such immunity," Patterson told the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview.
"The moreso when scientific evidence substantates that the cholera epidemic was originally introduced in Haiti at the time by peace-keeping soldiers (from Nepal) under UN command," Patterson continued.
Patterson, who has often served as "special adviser" to the Caribbean Communirty (Caricom) on matters involving developments and events in Haiti, was responding to concerns over prevailing silence by the 15-member Community over the UN stance.
He said he was aware of the current presence in Haiti of former US President Bill Clinton, who is the UN's special representative to that Caricom state, but made it clear that it was not for him to suggest what position either Clinton or Caricom should adopt in relation to the UN's claim of immunity as an excuse to avoid using its resources and influence to appropriately respond to the humanitarian compensation claims by thousands of Haitian cholera victims and their families.
While neither President Martelly nor the Caricom Secretariat is yet to make public a response to the UN's resort to "legal immunity", Patterson has questioning whether "this very disgusting stance" could stand up to the impartial judgement of an international court.,
The claims were officially filed five months ago by a reputable Boston-based human rights organisation Institute for Democracy but it was not until after the conclusion last month of Caricom Inter-Sessional Meeting of Heads of Government that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon telephoned Haiti's President Michel Martelly to inform him of the rejection of the compensation claims, based on legal immunity.
Martelly, the current chairman of Caricom, presided over the Community's first-ever summit meeting in Haiti that took place on February 18-19 and of which UN officials dealing with the Caribbean would have been aware.
Barbados' Daily Nation, in an editorial last Tuesday, deplored the UN's non-compensation stand, noting that the cholera epidemic had exploded in Haiti while the country was still engaged in the early phase of "monumental challenges" posed by the January 2010 earthquake.
According to the petition claims for compensation submitted to the UN by the Institute for Justice and Democracy, approximately 8,000 Haitians have already been killed by the cholera epidemic and almost another 6,000 infected with an average of 200 new cases being reported daily.