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On UN Cholera, Lawsuits Eyed in Haiti, US & Europe, Victims' Lawyer Tells ICP

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 – After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman announced Thursday that the claim the UN introduced cholera into Haiti was “not receivable,” Inner City Press asked him and then one of the claimants' lawyers questions about the ruling. Video here from Minute 10.

  Beatrice Lindstrom of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which filed the claim in November 2011, told Inner City Press that “it's disgraceful that the UN has taken 15 months to find it not receivable.”

  She said, “this does not mark the end... We will proceed. We are preparing a domestic lawsuit and we'll file.”

  Inner City Press asked, in Haiti?

   Lindstrom said, “In Haiti, in the United States and in Europe.”

   What would the legal theory be for filing in Europe, Inner City Press asked.

   There's “a lot of jurisprudence there protecting victims' rights to a remedy... The UN is not prepared to provide,” Lindstrom told Inner City Press. “Several courts say this does not comport with human rights law and set aside immunity.”

   Inner City Press asked if IJDH had any notice or inkling that the UN would announce its dismissal today, after 15 months.

   No, Lindstrom said, “We did not know it was forthcoming, there's been no communication from the UN since in December 2011 when they acknowledged receipt.”

   Inner City Press asked if the UN mission, MINUSTAH, ever set up the Standing Claims Committee specified in its Status of Forces Agreement with Haiti.

   Lindstrom said, “they committed in the Status of Forces Agreement but never did it in practice to our know or anywhere in world where there is a peacekeeping operation.”

   Again Inner City Press asked about the legal theory to sue in Europe, for the UN bringing cholera to Haiti and killing some 7000 Haitians.

   Lindstrom said, "we're working with victims from all over the world, that's one way to get jurisdiction... There's also jurisdiction on a legal level, over the UN in light of its immunity... if the Organization is trying to defend based on immunity, it can be enough to get the case kicked up” for review of if it's legal “for the domestic court to uphold immunity.”

   With Ban Ki-moon's top lawyer Patricia O'Brien, who refused requests from Inner City Press and then the Free UN Coalition for Access to take question on cholera in Haiti, about to leave to represent Ireland at the UN in Geneva, and Ban heading out on a trip, they may think it's over.

   But it does not sound like it's over. Watch this site.

Forward-looking footnote:  Inner City Press has also asked the head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous what safeguards if any he's implemented to avoid spreading cholera elsewhere.

  Ladsous refused to answer, then after FUNCA protested, on February 6 purported to answer Inner City Press on cholera - with no reference to safeguards. This continued, this week, in the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping.

  Could Ladsous' defiance trigger or require litigation and a restraining order? Watch this site.

From the February 21, 2013 UN noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: I want to ask you a question about the Haiti announcement you made, when you say it is not receivable, what is the legal argument? Was a Standing Claims Commission, as required by the status-of-forces agreement, established? It makes it sound like it is a legal determination, but is there going to be some kind of a memo? What’s the basis? What took so long, and “not receivable” in what way? It was received. Is it basically a claim of immunity by the UN? Can you say more about what this “not receivable” means?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, I am not in a position to provide you with any details. It’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of and the response to claims filed against the Organization. Let me also say I can confirm that we have informed counsel for the claimants that the claims are not receivable. Consideration of the claims would necessarily involve a review of political and policy matters. Accordingly, the claims are not receivable, pursuant to Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 13 February 1946. Just to answer your question about the time taken: we gave serious consideration to the matter, and took the time necessary to properly review the various claims raised in all their aspects.

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