News: Press Releases

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), along with 65 other Members of Congress, wrote Ambassador Samantha Power, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), about the UN’s inadequate response to the cholera epidemic in Haiti. Specifically, the letter detailed how in October 2010, UN peacekeepers in Haiti introduced cholera to the Caribbean nation and urged the UN to take immediate legal responsibility for the resulting harms. While the UN has expressed a desire to repair the damage, to date, no significant action has been taken. Following transmission of the letter to Ambassador Power, Rep. Conyers issued the following statement:

“As we approach the fourth anniversary of the tragic earthquake that devastated Haiti, much work remains to be done to rebuild and rehabilitate the Caribbean nation. Unfortunately, this effort has been imperiled since October 2010, when United Nations peacekeepers operating out of a base camp nearby Port au Prince inadvertently introduced cholera to the Haitian people. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been hospitalized, and thousands of Haitians have died. The UN has a moral and legal obligation to repair the harm resulting from its peacekeeping operations,” said Conyers.

“Current efforts by the UN to eradicate the cholera epidemic in Haiti are far from sufficient. In order for the UN to maintain its credibility around the world, it is imperative for it to acknowledge its legal responsibility and act now. This means fully funding the Cholera Elimination Plan and working to improve the water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti. Failure to do so will jeopardize the UN’s standing and moral authority in Haiti and other countries where its personnel are deployed.

“Although the United States’ mission to the UN has demonstrated its interest in remedying the massive harm caused by the cholera epidemic, on the dawn of the fourth anniversary of the Haitian Earthquake, I urge the Obama administration to intensify its efforts to find a just solution that will address the needs of the Haitian people. Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are fundamental building blocks for economic recovery, and the United States must not waver in advocating for the needs of the Haitian people.”

A copy of this letter is attached and the body of the message can be found below:

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January 10, 2014

The Honorable Ambassador Samantha Power

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

United States Mission to the United Nations

799 United Nations Plaza

New York, N.Y. 10017

Dear Ambassador Power,

We write to draw your attention to the United Nations’ response to Haiti’s cholera epidemic – a response that threatens to undermine the UN’s mandate to promote human rights and peace around the globe. In October 2010, UN peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti from a UN base camp some 40 kilometers northeast of Port au Prince. Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the epidemic resulted from the UN’s use of inadequate and outdated protocols that failed to prevent its peacekeepers from bringing cholera into Haiti, as well as its reckless disposal of waste into Haiti’s largest river system. UN culpability was recently detailed in reports released by Yale University Law School and School of Public Health, and by the UN’s own Panel of Experts on the Haiti cholera epidemic.

The UN’s response to date has been wholly inadequate. The UN continues to refuse to take responsibility for the outbreak, and the fund established by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to provide resources to the Cholera Elimination Plan sits at only 10 percent of the total sought. Secretary-General Ban claimed, in a July 5 letter to eighteen members of Congress who had expressed concern about the UN response, that the UN has built two wastewater treatment facilities in Haiti. But the UN was only one of many donors who contributed to the plants' construction and both have faced operational difficulties due to a lack of funding.

We appreciate that the U.S. Mission to the UN has demonstrated its interest in remedying the massive harm caused by the UN cholera epidemic in Haiti. We urge you to continue the Mission’s focus on the issue and to intensify efforts to find a just solution to this outbreak.

The benefits of such a focus and the implementation of just remedies are evident. Most critically, full funding of the Cholera Elimination Plan, along with improved water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, will reduce or eliminate cholera on the island of Hispaniola and help to combat a range of other diarrheal diseases and public health concerns. It bears emphasis that the right to clean water and adequate sanitation are rights guaranteed to the Haitian people by the UN General Assembly in July 2010 by Resolution 64/292. Moreover, as the Washington Post Editorial Board noted on August 11, “by refusing to acknowledge responsibility, the United Nations jeopardizes its standing and moral authority in Haiti and in other countries where its personnel are deployed.”

In addition, failure to accept responsibility for its actions will make it significantly more difficult for MINUSTAH to fulfill its mandate to build the rule of law in Haiti. Exhortations to submit to the law, to police officers, judges, government officials and citizens in Haiti will be undermined by the UN's own actions in regards to accepting legal responsibility for the cholera epidemic. Resources that may continue to be required for peacekeeping operations could instead be used to save lives and allow the Haitian people to realize their basic rights.

The United Nations has a moral and legal obligation to redress the harm resulting from the actions of its peacekeeping operations. It is time for the UN to accept responsibility to prevent needless additional tragic deaths and illness among Haitians. The United States, due its standing as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and its significant financial and diplomatic investments in Haiti, must be a strong voice for justice. We appreciate your support in this noble and urgent endeavor.

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