Contact: Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (New York and Boston)
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Cholera Victims’ Advocates Denounce UN’s Evasion of Responsibility in Kosovo

BOSTON, May 26, 2017 — Advocates for cholera victims in Haiti condemned today’s UN statement indicating that the Organization refuses to comply with its own human rights panel’s findings that victims of lead poisoning in a UN displaced persons camp in Kosovo are entitled to compensation. Instead of the justice required by international law, the UN proposes providing victims with charitable community projects to the extent that the projects attract international funding.

“In Kosovo, as in Haiti, the UN is substituting charity for justice, evading its legal obligation to compensate by offering to ask other entities to fund charitable projects,” said Sienna Merope-Synge, an attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which has sued the UN in court over the cholera outbreak and led a global campaign for justice. “These projects will have certain public relations benefits for the UN, but a highly speculative benefit to the victims suffering from devastating harm caused by UN recklessness.”

Victims in Kosovo and Haiti have pursued years-long struggles to hold the UN — which claims leadership in building the rule of law — accountable for inflicting massive harm through reckless or negligent conduct. In Kosovo, hundreds of people were poisoned by lead in UN displaced persons camps located on industrial sites known to be contaminated with heavy metals. In Haiti, 10,000 people have died after the UN recklessly introduced cholera through the discharge of contaminated human wastes into Haiti’s largest river system.

In both cases, victims sought compensation guaranteed by international law, and which the UN has repeatedly committed to providing in treaties, General Assembly resolutions, and Secretary-General reports. In both cases, the UN spent years and substantial resources tenaciously obstructing justice rather than addressing the harm it caused to vulnerable people it was charged with protecting.

“If the UN cannot honor its fundamental obligations to the people it has negligently injured and killed, than its professed commitments to human rights and dignity for all ring hollow. Advocates for cholera victims in Haiti stand in solidarity with victims in Kosovo who have once again been betrayed by the UN,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, Staff Attorney with IJDH.

After years of mounting pressure, in December the UN finally apologized for its role in the cholera outbreak and set up a trust fund to raise $400 million for cholera control and remedies for victims. Six months later, it has secured only 3% of the money promised, and appears to have no viable plan to raise the rest. After initially promising to consult victims on the forms of remedies they need, the UN increasingly seems to be foreclosing individual compensation and replacing it with a plan for charitable community projects.

“Secretary-General Guterres promised to promote a ‘culture of accountability’ at the United Nations” said Brian Concannon, Jr., Esq., Executive Director of IJDH. “But what he is delivering is a slap in the face, to the victims in Kosovo and in Haiti, but also to the UN’s own human rights systems, its Member States, and people all over the world who look to the organization to promote the rule of law.”