UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations and UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon were sued for negligence over claims that peacekeepers working for the organization in Nepal introduced cholera to Haiti when they were sent to the Caribbean nation after an earthquake there in 2010.
The UN “failed to exercise reasonable care” in deploying personnel from Nepal to Haiti “knowing that Nepal was a country in which cholera is endemic and where a surge of infections had just been reported,” according to a complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan.
The suit was filed on behalf of five Haitians and Haitian- Americans whose family members died of the disease or were infected with cholera. Plaintiffs allege the UN stationed personnel on a base located on the banks of a tributary which flows into the Artibonite River, Haiti’s longest waterway and the primary water source for tens of thousands of people.
Raw sewage and contaminated water was then discharged into the waterway by the UN workers, according to the complaint. Untreated human waste was also put in unprotected open-air pits outside the base where it also flowed into the tributary, the plaintiffs alleged. Cholera is a disease that causes severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and death.
The resulting Cholera epidemic killed at least 8,500 people and sickened at least 679,000 others in Haiti, according to the plaintiffs, who are seeking class-action status.
They seek damages for personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of use of property and natural resources and breach of contract.
“The plaintiffs have undergone indescribable suffering as a result of cholera and have to live with the knowledge that cholera can strike again,” Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said in a statement.
Ira Kurzban, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that he expects the UN will seek to dismiss the suit arguing that the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case. Kurzban said he thinks the case will survive such a challenge because the victims have a recognized right to access courts that must be protected.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN, said in a statement it doesn’t discuss lawsuits and claims filed against the organization. He said the UN is working with the Haitian government to provide “immediate and practical assistance to those affected and to put in place better infrastructure and services for all.”
“The United Nations remains committed to do all that the organization can do to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic,” Haq said.