A group of Haitians and Haitian-Americans are suing the United Nations for gross negligence that they say led to a massive cholera outbreak in 2010. The outbreak, that they say was caused by cholera-infected human waste dropped in the country’s main river by U.N. troops sent after a devastating earthquake, killed more than 8,300 people, sickened over 650,000, and continues to harm about 1,000 Haitians every year.
Attorneys from the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in federal court in the Southern District of New York on behalf of the victims. The plaintiffs have asked the court to certify the case as a class action, which will allow them to represent the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who suffered injuries or died from cholera.
“The plaintiffs have undergone indescribable suffering as a result of cholera and have to live with the knowledge that cholera can strike again,” said Brian Concannon, director of IJDH. “They have rights to have a court hear their case and rights to damages that will help them go on with their lives and access clean water.”
The complaint shows evidence that the U.N. should have known that its waste disposal practices posed a high risk of harm to the population and that it consciously disregarded that risk. The organization has refused in the past to receive claims filed by BAI and IJDH in 2011, claiming that considering them would require a review of political or policy matters.
The plaintiffs expect the U.N. will follow that strategy again.
“We anticipate that the U.N. will seek to avoid responding to the evidence presented by the victims by arguing that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. We are prepared for that challenge and are confident that the court will find that the case must proceed because the victims have a recognized rights to access courts that must be protected,” said Ira Kurzban, a civil rights litigator with law firm KKWT, which is co-counseling on the case.
The plaintiffs seek damages for personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of use of property and natural resources, and breach of contract.