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On Eve of Haiti Earthquake Anniversary, US Court Dismisses UN Cholera Suit

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 9 -- On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, US District Judge J. Paul Oetken of the Southern District of New York has given the dubious gift of dismissing a lawsuit against the UN for bringing cholera to the country, which has killed over 8,700 Haitians.

   Judge Oetken's ruling, here, cites another UN impunity case, Brzak v. United Nations, concerning sexual harassment by the head of the UN's refugee agency, concluding that "the United Nations, MINUSTAH, Ban Ki-moon, and Edmond Mulet are absolutely immune from suit in this Court." So much for accountability. So much for the rule of law.

  The plaintiffs' counsel vow to appeal. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti said, "We won't stop fighting until the UN cholera stops killing Haitians."

  The UN didn't even go to court to make the argument: the US did. On January 8, the US State Department's Special Coordinator Tom Adams said, "as you know, there’s a legal case been brought against the United Nations.  We’re not a party to that case.  We have asserted the immunity of the United Nations in that suit.  We didn’t do this out of a lack of sympathy for the victims, but it’s just part of our treaty obligations."

  On January 9, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: I want to ask a question about Haiti.  In the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the earthquake there, yesterday the State Department held a call and they said — they were asked about the litigation about the UN allegedly bringing cholera to Haiti and they said, although they are arguing in court for the UN's immunity, this doesn't mean that they're not sympathetic to the victims.  It's simply an application of their duty under treaty, i.e., to defend the UN. I wanted to know… I guess I wanted to ask for your response.  Do you see the US making these arguments in court that the UN should not have to appear and answer the charges as somehow vindicating the UN's position or a legal requirement that the US must undertake under its — under the Host Country Agreement?

Deputy Spokesperson Haq:  I wouldn't have any comment.  I don't really have anything to add what the US has said.

   Some might translate "what the US has said" as a claim to be legally required to argue for impunity. But there's more: it seems that where and when the US sees fit, it does not comply with its treaty obligations.

   For example, the US imposes restrictions to within 25 miles of Columbus Circle in Manhattan not only on diplomats from countries like Iran, Cuba and Syria, but even UN staff members from those countries. These have to seek advance permission to any trip beyond the limits, which the US says can and often is denied.

  So is the US absolutely required to argue in court for impunity for the UN for bringing cholera to Haiti? Separately, given the power the US has over the UN -- take for example Ban Ki-moon's disinvitation of Iran to the Montreux talks about Syria -- couldn't the US if it wanted "encourage" the UN to provide some recompense to families who lost their breadwinner to the cholera UN Peacekeeping brought?  This should be asked, and will be pursued. Watch this site.

How can the International Monetary Fund publish a 37-page report on Haiti and not mention cholera once? The IMF report, release here on January 5, does mention the UN Mission MINUSTAH which brought cholera, but not the disease and its impact.

 Is that because the UN brought it?

  The IMF says, of risks, "On the domestic front, governance problems, and political resistance to improving tax administration, as well as renewed spending pressures (including for Petrocaribe-related spending) could worsen an already unsustainable fiscal outlook and reduce the room to react to shocks, such as natural disasters. Reform momentum could also slow if political tensions resume
in the context of long-delayed congressional and municipal elections, and a reduction in the MINUSTAH stabilization force."

  The UN Security Council will visit Haiti on January 23 to 25, Council President for January Christian Barros Melet announced on January 5. We'll have more on this.

  After UN Secretary General dodged legal papers in one of the cases about UN Peacekeeping having brought cholera to Haiti, 77 members of the US Congress wrote to Ban:

"In the interests of securing justice for the victims and impacted communities as well as strengthening the UN’s leadership as a champion for human rights, we urge you to act immediately to establish a settlement mechanism through which victims and their families may seek relief and the country can move forward with the water and sanitation infrastructure it so desperately needs. Unless and until the UN honors the fundamental right to access justice, the issue of UN accountability in Haiti will remain."

  Inner City Press on December 23 asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the December 18 letter. Video here. He said, on camera, he didn't know about it. Inner City Press pointed out it is on Rep. John Conyers' web site - and if UN can't find it, here it is.

 The members of Congress signing the letter to Ban include John Conyers, Barbara Lee, James P. McGovern, Raul Grijalva, Donald Payne, Alan Grayson, John Lewis, Zoe Lofgren, Corrine Brown, Maxine Waters, Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, Jose Serrano, Gregory Meeks, Brad Sherman, Eliot Engel, Shiela Jackson Lee, Keith Ellison, Chaka, Fattah, Lloyd Doggett, Carolyn Maloney, Henry Waxman, Elijah Cummings, Al Green, Yvette Clark, Charles Rangell, Alcee Hastings, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, William Lacy Clay, Stephen Lynch and Michael Michaud, among others.
When Ban last held a press conference, it seemed clear that he had question(s) in advance, click here and here for that. But Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access will be asking -- and following up on what is now becoming a UN cover up of its peacekeepers shooting at democracy demonstrators on December 12 and blocking the camera of media trying to cover it. Video here, from 0:18; a second video is here. Now who will be help accountable?

  On December 16, for the second day in a row, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, whether the peacekeeper filmed shooting a pistol and pushing back a cameraman -- like his boss Ladsous -- had been interviewed yet.
 Dujarric would not answer even this, saying he will only speak when he hears from MINUSTAH. Video here.

This might be called a cover up, or a hope it goes away -- even as Ban Ki-moon, in tuxedo, goes to the ball of his UN Censorship Alliance where an award about Haiti will be given out, with no answers on shooting protesters there.

  Back on December 15, Inner City Press also asked UN Spokesman Dujarric about the incident, which the UN mission MINUSTAH has said it is investigating itself. Dujarric repeated this, adding that he didn't want to "pre-judge." Video here. But MINUSTAH's short press statement already characterized as "violent" the demonstrators that were shot at.

 Dujarric said they'd have to see if the peacekeeper felt threatened. Video here. After the web-cast UN noon briefing, Inner City Press was contacted by viewers who noted this subjective idea of an armed authority feeling threatened is that invoked in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner on Staten Island in New York.

  As on its impunity for bringing cholera to Haiti, the UN is on strange and untenable ground in seeking to justify shooting at unarmed people. And the head of UN Peacekeepering Herve Ladsous is conveniently in former French colony Senegal during all this.

 UN Peacekeeping's chief is Herve Ladous, and tellingly he himself tried to block the camera of the Press, right inside the UN, in September 2014. Vine here.

When a subordinate carries out the same act as his or her ultimate supervisor publicly did, it is  case of command responsibility. So who should be held accountable is known - but will it happen?

  Back on December 2, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about MINUSTAH and protests:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about Haiti, since there's the Mission there.  There have been protests about the failure to hold elections and they've been put down by police.  I wanted to know, first, whether there's been any MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] involvement; and also what the Mission's thinking is as the 12 January deadline imposes when the Government will be dissolved and Mr. [Michel] Martelly will rule by decree.  Is that the fact?  And what’s the UN doing?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I don't believe there's been… I don't believe there's been any involvement of MINUSTAH in the demonstrations.  Obviously, it's important that people have the right to demonstrate peacefully and it's up to the authorities to ensure that right is respected.  The political situation in Haiti obviously remains a concern.  It is one that we're following closely.

   So what happened December 2 ("no involvement of MINUSTAH") and December 12 - MINUSTAH shooting into the crowd? Inner City Press has asked Dujarric about the UN's rules of engagement, so far without answer.

   With questions unanswered, UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous had the gall on the afternoon of December 13 to rebroadcast MINUSTAH self-congratulations that ignored its filmed shooting at protesters and threatening media. Inner City Press initially asked the UN Spokesman:

"What were the rules of engagement? Who gave the order to use pistol(s) and, separately, tear gas? What is the UN's understanding of injuries caused? What was the role, and is the comment, of the Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous?"

  Inner City Press twice, in two media, asked for an explanation or comment from the UN Spokesman, and Saturday afternoon received this:

"The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, (MINUSTAH), has been informed of an alleged excessive use of force, while responding to violent demonstrators targeting law enforcement personnel supporting the Haitian National Police (HNP) and causing injuries and destruction of property, during the demonstration in Port-au-Prince today. The Mission takes this allegation very seriously and immediately opened an investigation to establish the facts."

  Artfully, or inartfully, the MINUSTAH statement does not state that it is the UN's own alleged (filmed) excessive use of force - so is the UN investigating itself? We've asked the UN Spokesperson and weekend duty officer this:

Because the MINUSTAH statement leaves it unclear, can you confirm that it is the UN's own “alleged excessive use of force” that the UN is now investigating?

What is the time frame for the investigation?

Who is doing the investigation? MINUSTAH's human rights unit?

Can to state now that the results of the investigation will be made public?

Since the MINUSTAH statement expresses conclusions about the demonstrators (“violent,” “and causing injuries and destruction of property”) please provide similar preliminary findings as to UN Peacekeepers' action shown on this video:

   Hours later, no answer, even as the second video emerged. Others in the UN system have been asked; we'll have more on that.

   Inner City Press has also sought comment from prospective UN-related awardee Andrea Bocelli, slated to accept without reference to the UN bringing cholera or now shooting into crowds there an award from the UN's Censorship Alliance next week -- and continues to await response.

  The MINUSTAH mission has just published this: "MINUSTAH has been informed of an alleged excessive use of force, while responding to violent demonstrators targeting law enforcement personnel supporting the Haitian National Police (HNP) and causing injuries and destruction of property, during the demonstration in Port-au-Prince today. The Mission takes this allegation very seriously and immediately opened an investigation to establish the facts."

  But UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous is already accused of cover-ups. This MINUSTAH statement doesn't even say against whom the allegations are.

  Inner City Press, before the December 12 protests and footage of the UN firing into them, asked the UN Office of the Spokesperson about the failure to hold elections, and if the MINUSTAH mission was involved in cracking down on demonstrations. On the latter, the answer given then was no.

  Now, this video, by Le Nouvelliste. Who will be held accountable? UN Peacekeeping is run by Herve Ladsous, a former French diplomat and spokesman during the ouster of Aristide. We will have more on this.

The day after the injustice of the UN's impunity for bringing cholera to Haiti was the subject of a religious service across First Avenue from the UN, photo here, Inner City Press asked the UN's spokesman Stephane Dujarric, video here:

Inner City Press:  About Haiti.  There was — yesterday afternoon, almost at the same time as the Ebola press conference, there was a religious ceremony held across the street of the Church Centre by both Haitians that live in New York who have had family members killed by cholera and also UN staff who feel that the UN policy of not directly addressing the claims for the families that were victims of the cholera is unjust.  I wanted to know if you were aware of that, if you have any response to it?

Spokesman:  I personally was not aware.  I think you know that the legal position of the UN as to this case is not, has not changed.  That being said, the UN continues to be very involved jointly with the Government of Haiti to work on the cholera issue in Haiti, to work on rebuilding the sanitation system, and I think the Secretary-General in his visit to Haiti in — over the summer, right?  In July, in mid-July, excuse me, in mid-July, I think, you know, went to one of the impacted village, prayed with the families and showed his empathy to the victims.

Inner City Press:  I understand that.  I don't think — people see the Secretary-General trying to raise funds for water and sanitation going forward.  I guess the question becomes for families that lost their breadwinner and, therefore, have kids who are unable to go to school with school fees, things like that, is there any — what's the UN's thinking?  Is the — the Government apparently has not addressed that problem.  So I'm wondering… I guess…

Spokesman:  I think whenever you have — whenever you have victims of any disaster, the issue of losing the breadwinner is an important one and one that needs to be addressed by national authorities in assistance with the international community.  Masood?

  MSF Doctors Without Borders said on November 24 that "the population has slowly lost their immunity to the disease. Compared to the same period in 2013, the number of cases handled by MSF has almost doubled. The lack of sanitary infrastructure and of measures to clean water risk aggravating the epidemic."

  Inner City Press asked the UN to respond to this, on November 28, but the UN has refused. The US government has online, also dated November 24, 2014, a Haiti web page that (still) says, under Health, that "Incidents of cholera have declined dramatically  since a major outbreak in 2010." Click here for that.

  While that page was not changed or updated, on December 4 the US State Department put out a travel warning for Haiti which mentioned what MSF called the "lack of sanitary infrastructure" - but NOT that the UN brought cholera to Haiti, much less that the US is supporting the UN's claim of immunity or impunity for it. Click here for the December 4 travel warning.

   The new US Travel Warning does, however, mention the UN, in this way: "The United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) remains in Haiti to support the activities of the Haitian National Police (HNP). The HNP, with assistance from MINUSTAH, is responsible for maintaining order and rendering assistance.  However, given the possibility and unpredictability of spontaneous protests, their ability to assist U.S. citizens during disturbances is very limited."

  It must be said: some of these protests are ABOUT cholera, and are DIRECTED at the UN, having having brought it and for having done nothing for the victims, whole families left without their main breadwinner.

   The US page on Haiti, on Safety and Security, says "Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States."

  What about compensation for the victims of the UN in Haiti?

  Inner City Press continues to pursue this question at the UN. On November 20 when Jose Ramos Horta took questions about the UN Peacekeeping review panel he now chairs, he initially said that the UN bringing cholera to Haiti was beyond the panel's mandate.

  When Inner City Press was able to ask him a question, it was to challenge this. How could more than 8,000 people killed, and the continuing impact on the UN's credibility, be beyond the mandate of this panel? Video here.

  Ramos Horta replied that, on reflection, he would raise the issue of cholera in Haiti to the panel's members, which now include Sri Lankan former UN official Radhika Coomaraswamy as well.

  Inner City Press also asked about the cover-up scandals swirling around UN Peacekeeping, about rapes and more in Darfur. Ramos Horta replied about abuses by peacekeepers in Timor Leste, that there must be accountability (he praised Sergio de Mello in this respect.)

UN Peacekeeping has become subject, under Herve Ladsous, to mounting questions about its operations, from crashed drones, selective “neutralization” of some rebels groups and not others, like the FDLR in the DR Congo, covering up attacks in Darfur and lack of accountability for negligently introducing cholera to Haiti, to name just a few.

While Ladsous refuses and even blocks Press questions about these topics, recently Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has taken to saying that a major “external” panel will be set up to review the issues. On Friday, October 31, Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the 14-member panel, to be chaired by Ramos-Horta.

In a run-on sentence, Ban listed the panel’s topics: “the changing nature of conflict, evolving mandates, good offices and peace-building challenges, managerial and administrative arrangements, planning, partnerships, human rights and protection of civilians, uniformed capabilities for peacekeeping operations and performance.”

Inner City Press asked Dujarric about a word NOT in the list: drones. Earlier on October 31 in the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee, the representative of Ecuador said that UN Peacekeeping’s use of drones should be subject to review by the General Assembly’s C-34 Committee: that is, by member states. (Ladsous evaded the C-34, then deployed more drones than he’d mentioned to the Security Council, and won’t answer on the reasons behind the crashes; DRC envoy Martin Kobler told Inner City Press it was due to “wind.”)

Dujarric cut the question off, saying that it was “too granular” and that drones might fall — as one did in DRC — under “the changing nature of conflict.”

But the question is, should UN Peacekeeping and Ladsous be subject only to review by a panel picked by Ban Ki-moon, or by the member states? Dujarric said Ban’s panel’s report will go the the General Assembly.

It is called an “external” panel, but included not only a number of long-time insiders, but even the current Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Ameerah Haq. This reporter asked Dujarric if this meant that Haq is leaving, and Dujarric said yes. The Free UN Coalition for Access opines: she is the wrong one to be leaving.

Strikingly, only TWO of Ban’s Panel’s 14 members are from Africa, where the vast majority of UN Peacekeepers are deployed. These members are from Ghana and Tunisia, not from countries with UN Missions like DRC, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic if not to say Liberia, where Ladsous is said to be planning “emergency responses” with a government that has quarantined whole neighborhoods like West Point in Monrovia.

Recently during the Security Council proceeding to renew the mandate of the mission in Haiti, many ambassadors from Latin America said Troop Contributing Countries weren’t sufficiently consulted; Argentina said it would not participate in certain policing or repression activities. Will that be reviewed? We’ll have more on this.

Beyond Ramos-Horta, the Panel’s members include Jean Arnault of France — some wonder if he’s there to protect Ladsous — Abhijit Guha of India, Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh, Andrew Hughes of Australia, Wang Xuexian of China, Hilde Johnson of Norway after a troubled stint in South Sudan, Henrietta Joy Abena Nyarko Mensa-Bonsu of Ghana, Floriano Peixoto Vieira Neto of Brazil, Bruce Jones of Canada, Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia, B. Lynn Pascoe of the US, whom Inner City Press reported was in the mix to replace Alexander Downer as UN envoy to Cyprus but was said to be blocked from getting it, Alexander Ilitchev of Russia and Ian Martin of the UK, who returned to the UN to mull mediation after starting the ill-fated UN Mission in Libya. Martin’s previous Board of Inquiry report on bombing in Gaza in 2009, Ban Ki-moon undercut with a cover-letter. We’ll have more on this, too.


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