This morning victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti filed a lawsuit against the United Nations for introducing the deadly disease in their country three years ago and covering up the mistake.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who are the advocates for the victims and their families, filed the lawsuit this morning at the Federal District Court in Manhattan. This is the most radical step taken by the IJDH in order to force the U.N. to take responsibility for the spread of the disease. They are seeking billions of dollars in compensation for the cholera outbreak that has sickened over 650,000 people.
“They have to help us because there are so many kids that are orphans now, that lost their mom, that lost their dads,” said plaintiff Felicia Paule, who survived cholera but lost a daughter, brother and nephew to the disease. “They’re responsible, so they have to help,” she told NBC News.
The high contagious disease, spread through feces, was largely absent from Haiti for nearly 100 years. The largest modern outbreak of cholera began in October 2010 when U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal introduced the disease into the sewage of their barracks. Scientific tests show the strain of cholera overtaking Haiti is genetically similar to cholera found in Nepal. The disease has spread to Venezuela, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. It has infected over 650,000 people and killed more than 8,300.
Although the U.N. has committed themselves to fixing the cholera epidemic, they have not admitted responsibility for inadvertently causing it. Officials agreed that the cholera victims should be compensated, but do not specify who should compensate them. The U.N. claims diplomatic immunity from the epidemic, which has enraged the Haitian community who feel that they have a moral responsibility to provide sufficient compensation and aid for the outbreak.
This lawsuit is the most recent and most radical step taken by the IJDH, who have been advocating for the Haitian cholera victims since 2010. Originally, the IJDH filed a claim with the U.N. in 2011 in order to settle individual claims from the victims. The U.N. refused to respond to the claim for 15 months, so the advocacy group filed the suit instead.
“We felt it would be much easier to resolve this out of court, to spend less money on lawyers and litigation and more money on stopping cholera in Haiti,” said Brian Concannon of the IJDH to NBC News. “The U.N. refused to take that opportunity and left us no choice but to go to court.”
The lawsuit not only blames the U.N. for introducing cholera, but also accuses them of covering up their role in the epidemic. It claims that U.N. peacekeeping officials falsely reported that they had been tested for cholera before entering the country and that the officials released a false statement that their septic system was up to EPA standards.
The suit lists five cholera victims as the plaintiffs. They are asking for the case to be considered a class action, which means that the five plaintiffs would represent all of the Haitians affected by the cholera epidemic. BBC News reports that lawyers are asking for $100,000 for each of the 8,300 people who died and $50,000 for each of the 650,000 people who became ill. In addition, the suit is requesting that the U.N. spend over $2.4 billion to improve Haiti’s water and sanitation systems.
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