Haitian-American elected officials press State Department on cholera epidemic suit

Haitian-American elected officials are raising concerns that the United Nations, charged with peacekeeping mandate in Haiti, may try to prevent the nation’s cholera epidemic victims from taking the organization to court.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and other Haitian-American elected officials urged the President Obama’s top diplomat to support their efforts to take the U.N. to court.

The U.S. State Department has asked for the U.N. to be granted immunity in one court case, according to the Miami Herald. A second group of cholera victims has also filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.N.
A U.N. spokesperson told the Herald that “it is standard practice for the Organization to assert its immunity in cases filed against it in national courts.”

“The UN peacekeeping mandate in Haiti includes promoting the rule of law, but the UN refuses to allow the victims of its cholera epidemic to have any access to justice, despite having a legal obligation to do so,” the letter said. “This insistence on impunity sets a dangerous precedence in Haiti, and profoundly undermines the organizations credibility to carry out any of its missions. We are committed to advocating for justice until the victims have their day in court, and we are hopeful that you will join us in this noble cause.”

Over 8,500 Haitians have died from cholera, and over 700,000 have been sickened since October 2010, according to the letter. Nine are killed each week, and 1,100 people are infected.

“We, in the diaspora, have lost family and friends to cholera and live in fear of losing even more,” Dorcena Forry and others wrote. “As Haitian-Americans visit their family, they are among those who contract this disease and die. In addition, cholera has an economic impact on members of the diaspora, where many of us regularly send money to our relatives. This epidemic has placed a harder financial burden on those living abroad due to funeral expenses, healthcare costs and sending funds for school fees for children whose parents have passed away.”

The letter points to “overwhelming” evidence from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as well as former President Bill Clinton, pointing to a U.N. peacekeeper or soldier introducing cholera to the Haitian population.

Along with state Sen. Dorcena Forry, other members of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network include New York Assemblywoman Michael Solages; Mayor Joseph Makhandal Champaigne Jr. of South Toms River, New Jersey; Irvington, New Jersey Councilwoman Charnette Frederick; and Atlanta, Georgia Councilman Antoine Dabouze, among others.