Haiti was free of cholera until 2010, when U.N. peacekeepers dumped
infected sewage into a river. Since then, more than 9,000 people
have died of the disease, which causes uncontrollable diarrhea, and
more than 800,000 people have fallen ill.
Philip Alston, the independent U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme
Poverty and Human Rights, told a U.N. committee on Tuesday that the
world body has refused to publicly state the reason for its legal
"There is reason to believe that the position adopted by (the U.N.
Office for Legal Affairs) in 2013 was consistent with views strongly
pressed at the time by the United States," said Alston, noting that
the United States has a strong interest in the issue as a close
neighbor of Haiti and the largest contributor to the U.N.
He said the United States seemed to believe that the United Nations
"must follow American legal practice, which generally takes the view
that legal responsibility should never be accepted when it can
possibly be avoided because one never knows the consequences for
The U.S. mission to the United Nations was not immediately available
to comment on Alston's remarks.
After a lawsuit was filed in the United States on behalf of cholera
victims, the United Nations said in 2013 that claims for
compensation were "not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the
Convention on the Privileges and Immunities." A U.S. federal appeals
court upheld the United Nations' immunity in August.
Under Section 29, the United Nations is required to make provisions
for "appropriate modes of settlement" of private law disputes to
which the world body is a party or disputes involving a U.N.
official who enjoys diplomatic immunity.
Alston said "if there is a private law issue, in other words
negligence, then the U.N. is obligated to accept the claims that
they make and to process them in some appropriate way - that's what
the U.N. is refusing to do."
He said the United Nations could abide by its obligations under the
treaty without jeopardizing its immunity.
[to top of second column]
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the world body has a
"moral responsibility" to help the cholera victims with material
support. He is working on a new approach to dealing with cholera in
the Caribbean country, and the United Nations hopes to raise enough
money to pay some $10,000 to each of the victims' families.
But the world body acknowledged on Monday that raising enough
funding would be difficult.
Alston has concluded that scientific evidence "points overwhelmingly
to the responsibility of the peacekeeping mission as the source of
"The U.N. says, 'We don't know how it happened,'" he said.
"I had had a hope that this secretary-general would end his term by
issuing a genuine and serious apology, not talking about moral
responsibility, or other words that legal advisers come up with to
avoid a reference to real responsibility," Alston said.
Ban is due to step down at the end of 2016 after serving two
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.