According to extensive documentation by scientists and journalists, including Armin Rosen at The Atlantic, peacekeeping troops belonging to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) inadvertently but negligently brought cholera into the country several months after the January 2010 earthquake. That October, troops from Nepal carrying the disease were stationed at a military base near the town of Méyè. Because of inadequate water and sanitation facilities at the base, cholera-infected sewage contaminated the Artibonite River, the largest river in Haiti and one the country's main water sources. As locals consumed the contaminated water, cholera spread across the country. Absent from Haiti for over a century, cholera is now projected to plague the country for at least another decade.
The UN has disingenuously claimed that the scientific evidence on the introduction of cholera into Haiti is "inconclusive," citing a 2011 epidemiological report that the UN itself commissioned. In late July, however, the same experts who wrote the 2011 report--and who are no longer employed by the UN--retreated from their earlier findings. While the exact source of cholera in Haiti "may never be known with scientific certainty," they said, the "preponderance of the evidence" leads to the conclusion that MINUSTAH troops brought cholera to Haiti. Our report concurs with this conclusion, finding unequivocally that epidemiological and other scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to UN troops as the source of the epidemic.
In addition to rejecting scientific proof, UN officials have repeatedly denied their legal and moral obligations in Haiti. In a recent letter to the U.S. Congress, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon noted that Haitian claims for redress are not receivable under international law, as the UN has legal immunity. Ironically, however, the secretary-general cited the same treaty--the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations--that requires the organization to "make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement" for claims that arise from its missions.
While the UN does have legal immunity in very specific instances, it does not have carte-blanche impunity. Treaty law requires that when UN missions harm innocent bystanders, the organization must provide a forum for victims to seek justice--even if that forum is not a court of law.
Along with its standing responsibilities under treaty law, the UN accepted obligations to respect the human rights of Haitians, including their right to health, when it signed a SOFA with Haiti in 2004. Among other guarantees, this agreement explicitly promised to create a "standing claims commission" to review "any dispute or claim of a private-law character"--meaning, claims arising from injuries or contract violations attributable to the UN. Yet the UN has not established a claims commission in Haiti. In fact, our research shows that, while the UN has promised claims commissions, if needed, in over 30 SOFAs since 1990, the organization has not established a single commission. Given reports in several countries, including Haiti, of wrongdoing and negligence by peacekeepers, the failure to establish claims commissions has left countless victims without access to justice.