Charanya Krishnaswami is a student at Yale Law School and a member of the Transnational Development Clinic. Muneer I. Ahmad is a professor at Yale Law School, where he directs the Transnational Development Clinic.
The mandate of the U.N. mission in Haiti includes ensuring “individual accountability for human rights abuses and redress for victims.” Yet instead of fulfilling its obligations to the roughly 600,000 Haitians affected by a cholera outbreak it caused, the United Nations is hiding, shamefully, behind a claim of immunity. By refusing to right its own wrong, the international body is violating the principles of international accountability and human rights that it purports to promote.
For all its challenges, Haiti was free of cholera for about a century before a U.N. peacekeeping force arrived from Nepal in October 2010. Although there had been an outbreak of cholera in Nepal shortly before the troops left for Haiti, the U.N. mission failed to appropriately screen the peacekeepers for the disease. This error was compounded by the United Nations’ failure to provide the peacekeeping mission adequate sanitation facilities at their base in the town of Mirebalais. As a result, cholera-infected waste leaked into a tributary to Haiti’s largest river, the Artibonite.Because many Haitians depend on the river for water, the spread of cholera was as rapid as it was deadly, killing more than 8,000 people, as of last month, and sickening hundreds of thousands of others.