UN Apologizes for Role in Cholera Outbreak
On December 1 in a meeting in the UN’s Trusteeship Council, the UN Secretary General apologized for not doing more in the UN Haiti Cholera affair, stating “”On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: We apologize to the Haitian people … “we simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role.” It also announced details of a material assistance package that will total some $200 million, provided sums can be raised. A media report on the speech can be found here. The webcast is currently available here.
This meeting was eagerly anticipated, as the culmination of the UN’s change of direction, which it signaled in August of this year. After announcing that that the UN would provide some compensation in October, the UN announced a two-track approach involving better water sanitation (track one) and “material assistance” (track two) to the victims. The details of this new approach were released in a new Secretary General report.
Of particular interest is the Material Assistance Package, which is described as follows: “Track 2 is the development of a package of material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera, centered on the victims and their families and communities. Affected individuals and communities will participate in the development of the package. This will inevitably be an imperfect exercise, fraught with practical and moral hazards, and it has been complicated by the impact of Hurricane Matthew. The package is not likely to fully satisfy all those who have been calling for such a step, nor will it happen overnight. However, the Secretary General has concluded that it is better to take this step than not to.”
The report indicates that much work remains to be done. First, the funds for Track II ($200 million) need to be raised, and paragraphs 60 – 64 demonstrate there is no clear timeline. Second, the reports details two different approaches to assistance: community based or individual. The report notes the logistical difficulties of proceeding down this path, although it doesn’t eliminate it. Due to the absence of data on who the victims of cholera are and were, it seems likely that a community based approach will prevail.
Reactions to the announcement have been generally positive. In a press release, Brian Concannon, one of the lawyers for the victims and Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, stated “This marks a remarkable shift in the UN’s response, and is a major victory in the cholera victims’ six-year long struggle for compensation, cholera treatment and elimination, and an apology. Victims have demanded justice from the streets of Port-au-Prince to the courts of New York, and finally they are being heard.” However, many have been quick to pick up on what the UN did not say: that it was responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and author of a recent and very critical report on the UN’s actions, termed this a “half-apology” in an interview with The Guardian because the Secretary General omitted to apologize for the introduction of Cholera in the first place. He declared this a “missed opportunity.”
It is significant from another perspective as well: if the UN had acknowledged its liability and accepted responsibility for the introduction of cholera in Haiti, the material assistance could have been presented as expenses of the Organization under Art. 17 of the UN Charter, which would have given the Secretary General the opportunity to request they be added to the regular budgets (such as the peacekeeping budgets) and assessed from Member States at the normal rate.
We will be posting other reactions to the UN announcement this week: stay tuned!