Immunity with impunity
IT was bad enough for the United Nations to bring cholera into earthquake-stricken Haiti via its troops. But to give itself legal immunity against victims’ claims for damages is simply outrageous.
In just one sentence, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has severely damaged the confidence that the people of Haiti has reposed in the UN ever since the Duvalier dictatorship fell, making room for a greater UN presence in this Caribbean country.
We therefore share the outrage expressed by former prime minister of Jamaica, Percival Patterson who, having served as Caricom’s special adviser in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, would know Haiti’s pain first-hand.
The UN’s reputation as a well-meaning, honest broker to the world now stands to be savaged by this decision to refuse compensation to the 5,000 Haitian claimants for the cholera epidemic which has been scientifically traced to infection from Nepalese UN peacekeepers who were brought in following the earthquake.
The compensation claim, filed by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), had seemed open and shut until Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon delivered the shock position that the UN was invoking “legal immunity” in denying liability and refusing compensation.
In one stroke, the United Nations, champion of democracy the world over, had revealed itself as capable of arbitrary, autocratic and unjust decision-making as those it often condemns. This UN verdict effectively tells Haiti that it must not expect justice from the very agency in which it had reposed its trust for assistance and relief.
By denying responsibility in this matter, the UN has now joined the list of those who will not be held accountable for its misdeeds in Haiti.
This is not merely a legal matter; it is a moral issue. For, if the UN, above all, will not take responsibility for its failures in Haiti—in this case the failure to adequately screen its peacekeepers, detect disease and respond to a deadly health crisis—who will? Having endured a cholera epidemic which killed 8,000 people, sickened a further 6,000 and counting, the UN’s invoking of immunity amounts to a declaration that Haitians should expect no more than to lick their wounds and accept their fate when others do them wrong.
We, the members of the Caricom family, must not accept this. In every forum, we must raise our voices and insist on being heard.
To be blunt, Caricom has achieved very little in Haiti of which it can be proud. After the initial outpouring of generosity by our people, Caribbean governments have proved themselves little better than the rest of the world in providing meaningful and transformational assistance.
With the reconstruction plan all but collapsed, international interests have largely slunk away, leaving Haitians to paddle their own canoes. In the face of this latest absurdity, however, the Caricom region must unite for Haiti again, and rally international support in resisting this extraordinarily perverse UN determination.