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On Haiti Cholera, Medrano on Legal Wrangling, But UN Won't Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 23 -- The UN's envoy on cholera in Haiti Pedro Medrano was quoted by Agence France Presse yesterday that legal wrangling over the epidemic had to be put aside in order to tackle the sweeping advance of the disease.

   Since when Inner City Press has asked, the UN has repeatedly refused to comment on, or access legal papers in, the class action lawsuit against it for bringing cholera to Haiti, this seemed strange.

  At the UN's January 23 noon briefing Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's acting deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq how much if anything -- beyond its credibility -- the lawsuit has cost the UN, and if the UN has accepted service of legal papers.

  Haq said the UN will not comment on the lawsuit.  But, Inner City Press pointed out, the UN's Medrano DID comment on the lawsuit, saying it should be put aside.

  Then Haq said that is not the quote, pulling out the AFP article. It appears the UN chose AFP or even this AFP correspondent to make it pitch for money while avoiding dealing with its responsibility for the cholera. (The correspondent was called on first at the January 23 noon briefing, and said to Haq, "On behalf of Pam, I welcome you," referring to Pamela Falk of CBS, the president of the United Nations Correspondents Association now known as the UN's Censorship Alliance.)

  How could that AFP article not have pursued the lawsuit angle? This is how the UN -- and its chosen scribes -- work, or don't work.

    On the fourth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a 312-word statement to UN staff there. He began, appropriately, with "grief" - but nowhere in the statement did he mention the word "cholera," much less that the UN is nearly universally viewed as having brought cholera to Haiti, through a deployment of peacekeepers from Nepal coupled with lax UN sanitation practices.

In New York, the UN dodged the claims and questions from Inner City Press about if it has standing claims commissions anywhere -- the answer is no -- and if it even now screens for cholera before deployment -- the answer is still no. Most recently, the UN has refused to accept service of legal papers in the class action lawsuit filed against it. And see below:

   When asked inside the UN about bringing cholera to Haiti, spokespeople for UN Peacekeeper have for months been telling the Press "we have nothing more to say," or more recently, "that is not a yet or no question."

  So in November 2013 Inner City Press went two blocks from the UN to a panel discussion with UN Peacekeeping and the US State Department, to see if there might be a more candid answer.

  The guest was supposed to be UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who inside the UN refuses to answer Press questions. (Video here, UK coverage here.) But he was replaced, apparently at the last minute, by his deputy Edmond Mulet, once the head of the UN's mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

When Mulet and the US State Department's Victoria Holt were asked about cholera in Haiti, only Mulet answered. (Holt answered another question about zero tolerance for sexual abuse, but said nothing about the US-trained 391st Battalion of the Congolese Army being implicated in 135 rapes in Minova.)

Mulet essentially blamed the cholera death on Haiti itself, noting the "same strain" -- that would be, from Nepal, brought along with the peacekeepers from there by the UN -- spread to the Dominican Republic but didn't kill anyone.

Mulet said it spread to Cuba too, but the government there was more organized. But no follow-up was allowed on the main point: it was the UN peacekeepers' negligent santitation practices that put their fecal material in the river and introduced cholera to Haiti. Have any improvements been made since?

The venue was the Museum of Tolerance; the host was UNA-USA. The mood was how to make the UN attractive to Americans, or really, how to best present the UN to Americans. That's why Mulet's blame-the-Haitians line doesn't work: nearly anyone who hears what happens thinks the UN should apologize, and try to help the families of those killed. And that is something that UNA-USA is going to have to deal with. Watch this site.

Footnote: Mulet did tell some interesting stories, about peacekeepers in Western Sahara having to use powder to fend off snakes; he also said that the first of Ladsous' drones -- he called them UUAV, unarmed -- will fly above Eastern Congo in ten days' time. Watch this site.


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