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Ask UN to Stand Up for Haitian Cholera Victims' Human Rights on Human Rights Day

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has launched a “Celebrate Human Rights” campaign to commemorate the December 10 anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The rights enshrined in the UDHR include the rights to life (Art. 3), health (Art. 25) and to access to competent national tribunals for rights violations. “Universal” means “everyone”, including Haitians.

This Human Rights Day, let’s ask UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, to stand up for victims of the cholera that UN peacekeepers introduced to Haiti in October 2010. Haitians’ rights to health and to life are being violated: over 26,000 and 200 killed in just the last month; over 7,000 killed and 500,000 sickened since the epidemic started. The UN declines to provide the medical treatment and clean water necessary to control the epidemic, and refuses to allow the victims their day in court.

High Commissioner Pillay could be a strong advocate for cholera victims, almost all of whom are desperately poor. She has made a career of courageously and successfully standing up for victims of human rights violations, including victims of apartheid in South Africa and rapes in Rwanda, to ensure their day in court against powerful perpetrators. She calls her Commission "the voice of the victim everywhere."

A UN report confirmed that “overwhelming evidence” points to peacekeepers of the UN Stabilization Mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) as the source of the cholera introduced to Haiti in October 2010.The report cites the Mission’s failure to test peacekeepers deployed from cholera epidemic zones abroad and waste disposal practices that allowed raw sewage to flow into Haiti’s largest river system. But the UN refuses to accept responsibility for the epidemic, claiming that other factors, including Haiti’s poor clean water and healthcare systems, somehow absolve it. But those factors were well-known at the time the UN made the decisions about testing troops deployed from cholera zones and maintaining its waste disposal system, and were a basis for the UN exercising greater care, not an excuse for negligence.

The UN won’t let cholera victims challenge this legal claim in a fair, impartial tribunal. A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Haitian government confers the UN immunity from suits in Haitian courts, and in seven years MINUSTAH has never waived this immunity or established the Standing Claims Commission required by the SOFA. On November 3, 2011, five thousand cholera victims filed complaints asking the UN to respond justly to the cholera or provide a fair mechanism for trying their claims, but the UN has not responded.

The UN’s failure to respect the rights enshrined in the UDHR, one of its foundational documents, or to respond justly to Haiti’s cholera epidemic, when the liability is so clear and the devastation so great, damages its credibility. The failure also undermines the work of MINUSTAH and all UN agencies, including the High Commissioner’s Office.

For more information on cholera in Haiti and the victim’s struggle for justice, see

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