Relief for Cholera Victims?

Today, lawyers of Haitian cholera victims and their families filed a class action complaint with the Southern District Court of New York. The complaint seeks to hold the UN and its subsidiary, MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) liable for releasing raw sewage into Haiti’s primary water source and failing to take any remedial steps necessary to contain the cholera outbreak.

MINUSTAH’s operations are governed, amongst other legislation, by SOFA. It provides that MINUSTAH shall cooperate with the Government of Haiti “with respect to sanitary services and shall extend to each other the fullest cooperation in matters concerning health, particularly with respect to control of communicable diseases, in accordance with international conventions.”

The complaint alleges that, in October 2010 the UN deployed 1,075 troops from Haiti to Nepal as part of a six-month rotation. Nepalese authorities reported a cholera surge in the Kathmandu Valley.  Soldiers spent three months in the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, but one or more were exposed and contracted cholera while visiting their families in the Kathmandu Valley.

The UN and MINUSTAH did not test the soldiers for cholera, nor give them any vaccines or take any other precautions before returning to Haiti. As a result, one or more soldiers carried cholera from Nepal to Haiti. They were stationed primarily on three bases in Haiti: Meille, Hinche, and Terre Rouge. Meille is situated on a tributary system that provides many Haitian citizens their water necessary for all activities of daily living.

The UN and MINUSTAH developed a waste management system; however, it failed to meet any of the sanitary and safety requirements and caused cholera contamination to go into the tributary through leakage and overflow into pipes and open air. Consequently, cholera broke out in Haiti. By October 22, 2010 there were 4,470 cases of cholera, 195 deaths reported. The complaint alleges that many more people over the years have continued to be hospitalized and die, as a result of the UN and MINUSTAH’s negligence.

The Plaintiffs request declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory, punitive and pecuniary damages, as well as, attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

What do you think is the likelihood these Plaintiffs will prevail? What relief should be awarded to the Plaintiffs? What should the consequences be for the UN and MINUSTAH? What future international law or treaties should be established in order to rectify this issue?


Source: Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Picture: Google Images


  1. In a case with this much magnitude, I feel that the likelihood of the plaintiff’s prevailing could go either way. On the one hand, bringing suit against the UN might be difficult just because of the status they hold. On the other hand, the Plaintiff’s have a valid cause of action in which to bring against the UN. The reason that the United Nations was in fact established was to maintain peace and security throughout the entire world. Therefore, the UN initially had a duty to protect the population from the potential outbreak of disease, and through it’s negligence, failed to complete that duty, losing many lives. By being empowered with this duty, the UN needs to invest more time into creating and maintaining a better waste management system. Also, there should be stringent regulations created requiring soldiers who are traveling to other foreign areas to be tested before returning home, to prevent any future out breaks and to protect the people.

  2. The plaintiffs undoubtedly have a surefire, solid case against the United Nations backed by facts, policy, treaties, and all around common human decency.
    Although the United Nations acted in good faith when they deployed workers to help Haitians after the devastating earthquake that took place on January 12, 2010, that good act alone should not absolve the agency from taking normal precautions. Although the United Nations stayed true to its mission of helping mankind in its time of need, that help proved to be a doubled edged sword. The U.N. Charter, human rights treaties, and status-of-forces agreements (SOFAs), require that the U.N. provide individuals affected by its operations with means for bringing claims against the organization. The U.N. did not provide the Haitian people with that avenue citing that the fact that they had immunity. Be that as it may true, the U.N. is not infallible. Treaty law requires that when U.N. missions harm the same people they are attempting to assist they must provide a forum for victims to seek justice.
    Any inference that the U.N. is not at fault and did not fail to appropriately remedy a harm they instated conflicting with one of their missions of human rights is clearly wrong and uninformed.

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