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On Haiti, NYT Lets Ban Ki-moon Off Hook, Cholera Screening Falsely Claimed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 13 -- After the Haiti cholera lawsuit was filed October 9 in US federal court in New York City, there's been another flurry of editorial calling for "the UN" or "the world body" to take responsibility.

 While welcome, several including that of the New York Times miss the point, or the target.

The NYT editorial reports that "the United Nations’ response — as it has been the last three years — was to claim immunity from litigation."

  But it nowhere mentions the name or even title of the individual who is responsible for this decision: Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

In most things, it is the Permanent Five members of the Security Council who run the UN. Notably, any one of them could have blocked Ban Ki-moon from becoming Secretary General.

But when Inner City Press this week asked French Permanent Representative Gerard Araud about the lawsuit, he said it was entirely up to Ban Ki-moon.

And then 19 members of the US Congress wrote to the State Department, then US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice demanding accountability for the cholera brought to Haiti, and there was no response, Inner City Press asked the US Mission to the UN about it.

  The US response was, it's up to the Secretariat of Ban Ki-moon. (The view of Rice's successor Samantha Power on this, if different, is not yet known. Inner City Press got a response from Power on accountability, but only with regard to Syria, here.)

  Ban's spokespeople, when pressed, tried to say that the decision to deem the legal claims "not receivable" was made by Ban's then top lawyer Patricia O'Brien.

  But she has left the UN, as least as an employee: she now represents Ireland at the UN in Geneva. In any event, this is not the type of issue that saying "on advice of counsel" is sufficient.

It was and is Ban Ki-moon's decision, one of the worst in his tenure so far. (Notably he also failed to call even for a ceasefire as 40,000 civilians were killed in Sri Lanka in 2009, then accepted a perpetrator as a UN adviser and tried to withhold an internal UN report until Inner City Press obtained and published it last week, here.)

  So why does the "Paper of Record" leave the decision-maker out of the picture? Bloomberg View, which also doesn't use Ban's name, at least notes that "the secretary-general’s office replied that the complaint was “not receivable” because it would require “a review of political and policy matters."

  Of course, it's hard to an "office" responsible. And this Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General, through associate spokesperson Farhan Haq, last week told Inner City Press that as a lesson learned from Haiti, UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous now screens peacekeepers for cholera.

  Inner City Press knew this to be false, and said it. When it asked the next day -- no correction was offered in 24 hours -- Haq acknowledge that no screening is being done, blaming WHO. But publications like Caribbean Journal still have online uncorrected stories like this: "UN: Lesson Learned From Haiti Is to 'Screen Peacekeepers For Cholera.'"

  That story even links to the UN's transcript of its October 11 noon briefing, where Haq told Inner City Press, "part of our lessons learned from this has been to screen peacekeepers for cholera."

  The UN never added a correction to that -- no screening is taking place -- nor apparently has it sought to tell the Caribbean Journal and others to stop spreading the "good" (but false) news.

  This UN will only improve, if then, if those responsible are named and asked to be accountable. The structure of the UN makes anonymity and impunity more likely than elsewhere. To counter this, and open the UN, the Free UN Coalition for Access has begun, despite UN threats. Watch this site.


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