Appeal Launched in Haiti Cholera Case

by Kristen Boon

Plaintiffs have appealed the January 9, 2015 decision of the Southern District of New York, that the United Nations is immune in the case Delama Georges et al. The appeal brief, filed by the International Institute for Justice in Haiti, is available here: Georges v UN – Principal Appellate Brief 5.28 Final.

The contentions on appeal are as follows:

1.  Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants UN and MINUSTAH are entitled to immunity despite having violated their treaty obligation to provide a mode to settle private law claims

2. Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants Ban and Mulet are entitled to immunity in this case simply because they “hold diplomatic positions”

3.  Whether the District Court erred in failing to address the U.S. Plaintiffs’ argument that granting immunity in this instance violates their constitutional rights to access the federal courts.

These arguments hew closely to the position espoused in the SDNY, while emphasizing the UN’s failure to provide reasons and a remedy for what plaintiffs persuasively contend is a private law claim. The plaintiffs focus on Sections 2 and 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN). The first sections grants immunity to the United Nations from all forms of legal process, while the latter provision requires the UN to settle private law disputes by alternative means. As argued at the October 2014 hearing, the plaintiffs contend that the United Nations and MINUSTAH have violated article 29 in failing to provide the plaintiffs with an alternative forum, and that this failure constitutes a material breach of the treaty.  One issue that is not fully explored is whether private litigants can benefit from an alleged breach and request suspension, if that treaty was concluded between states.

The Plaintiffs also argue that the District Court erred when relying on the Brzak case, because it does not mention a breach of section 29 of the CPIUN. The Plaintiffs also contend that granting immunity in this case violates the constitutional right of a U.S. citizen plaintiff to have access to the courts. The plaintiff’s brief states that “granting immunity in this case impermissibly infringes on the right [of the plaintiff], which includes the right to bring a well-pleaded civil lawsuit for recognizing causes of action”.

One important development is that six amicus briefs were filed in support of the plaintiffs appeal, with 54 signatures in total.   These briefs represent a range of different interests and flag a diverse set of issues for the court.    Here are links and summaries of the main arguments:

  • ConLawScholarsAmicus focuses on the constitutional right held by the plaintiff to gain access to the courts.
  • EuroLaw Amicus Brief[3] brief focuses on when UN immunity should be limited, and discusses the reasonable alternative means test. It also highlights cases that have drawn a distinction between acts that are essential to the IO and those that are supplementary. Finally, it refers to due process requirements and highlights cases challenging UN sanctions like Kadi.
  • Haitian-AmericanAmicus: This brief was filed by members and family members of the cholera affected population. This brief presents a three-tiered argument for why the district court erred in upholding the UN’s immunity. First, the harm from the cholera epidemic is ongoing and worsening; Second, the UN is not entitled to immunity when it breaches its obligations to provide remedies; Third, the UN should be required to abide by the same Rule-of-law Principles that is espouses as central to its mission in Haiti.
  • HumanRightsGroupsAmicus: This brief focuses on the idea that the UN is bound by substantive international law, and obligated to give a remedy. It argues that the United Nations cannot seek to avoid the substantive obligations of international law which reject the possibility of the broad immunity claimed by the United Nations. Moreover, it suggests that there is a duty to provide a remedy when the UN caused the “arbitrary deprivation of life.”
  • IntlLawScholars Amicus: This brief focuses on the UN Charter and the SOFA between Haiti and the UN, and argues that the relationship between Articles 105 of the Charter and Articles 2 and 29 of the CPIUN is such that given the private nature of the injury, a remedy is required. This brief also cites to Beer and Regan for the idea that lack of effective alternative for private claims is grounds to waive immunity, and notes in Brzak alternative process was available.
  • UNOfficialsAmicus: This is a brief written by six former UN officials and has three main arguments to it: (1) Immunity was never meant to provide a mechanism for the UN to act with impunity, (2) Allowing the claims to go forward will enhance the UN’s legitimacy and its ability to fulfill its mission, (3) Allowing the claims to go forward will not open the flood gates because this is an unprecedented situation.

Moving forward, the defense has 14 days to respond to propose a briefing schedule. As a non-party, it is not clear whether the US will agree to that timeframe however.

 

Thanks to my Research Assistant Dan Hewitt for his help in reviewing the filings.

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/06/05/appeal-launched-in-haiti-cholera-case/

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for an interesting post . I was bit amazed of that case or post , and went out to check it out , now , superficial glance has taught me so , I quote from the brief :

    ” The case is a class action lawsuit arising out of the largest cholera epidemic in the world. This epidemic, which has killed and sickened hundreds of thousands of people, was caused by the UN’s discharge of untreated human waste into Haiti’s largest river system. ”

    Now, article two of the convention ( UN immunity ) grants clearly the UN, the privilege to waive its immunity, and , In what cases clearly, if not in such amazing tort or reckless conduct, dumping to a river human waste in such manner ?

    All that doctrine of : ” will open the flood gates… ” for other claims , is a very poor observation , because :

    I can tell , from huge experience , lawsuits of such , only drive authorities and states and institutions , to perform better and better, and finally, many torts are avoided , so, Everybody benefits from it.

    However , that is why there are courts , in order to : regulate , control , and modulate , when exactly a claim or lawsuit is appropriate and valid, and when not !! So, the flood to come, can always be controlled, surly in light of such tort , in epic dimensions as seemed here.

    Thanks

  2. It seems that the Eurolawamicus is a copy of the blog text in docx-format.

  3. Thanks Toni – corrected!

  4. For an earlier writing regarding duties of UN personnel and those operating under a UN flag as well as nonimmunity for human rights violations, see http://ssrn.com/abstract=1710744
    UN entities are unavoidably bound by customary human rights in view of obligations under UN Charter art. 55 and the art. 103 override of conflicting international agreements.

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