UN rejects Haiti cholera compensation claims

Brian Concannon, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, explains why the UN says it is legally immune to such claims

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The United Nations has formally rejected compensation claims by victims of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed almost 8,000 people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision.

The UN says it is immune from such claims under the UN's Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.

Evidence suggests cholera was introduced to Haiti through a UN base's leaking sewage pipes.

UN spokesman, Martin Nesirky: "The claims are not receivable"

The UN has never acknowledged responsibility for the outbreak - which has infected more than 600,000 people - saying it is impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the disease, despite the mounting evidence the epidemic was caused by poor sanitation at a camp housing infected Nepalese peacekeepers.

In a terse statement, Mr Ban's spokesman said damages claims for millions of dollars filed by lawyers for cholera victims was "not receivable" under the 1947 convention that grants the UN immunity for its actions.

But a lawyer for the cholera victims told the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN that UN immunity could not mean impunity, and said the case would now be pursued in a national court.

The lawyer, Brian Concannon, said the victims' legal team would challenge the UN's right to immunity from Haitian courts, on the grounds that it had not established an alternative mechanism for dealing with accountability issues, as stipulated in its agreement with the government.

Human rights lawyer Ira Kurzban: ''The secretary-general has to be held accountable''

He also said lifting immunity would not challenge UN policy, which is protected by the convention, but its practice, such as how to test troops for disease and properly dispose of sewage.

In December the UN launched a $2bn (£1.3bn) appeal to fight the cholera epidemic, which is currently the worst outbreak in the world, and Mr Ban reiterated to Mr Martelly the UN's commitment to the elimination of cholera in Haiti.

Cholera is a disease of poverty, analysts say. It is spread through infected faeces and, once it enters the water supply, it is difficult to stop - especially in a country like Haiti which has almost no effective sewage disposal systems.

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