UN scrambling to compensate victims of cholera epidemic in Haiti its peacekeepers introduced

A man bathes his daughters in a river, which could be contaminated with cholera, in Rendel, Haiti.
A man bathes his daughters in a river, which could be contaminated with cholera, in Rendel, Haiti. PHOTO: NYT

UNITED NATIONS (NYTIMES) - Ever since UN peacekeepers introduced a devastating cholera epidemic to Haiti in 2010, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has insisted that the global body is immune from legal claims.

In the past few months, he has acknowledged a "moral responsibility" for the epidemic, but he has stopped short of saying sorry.

Now, with barely two months left in his term, Mr Ban's administration is scrambling to compensate, for the first time, those who have suffered, with a plan to give them or their communities cash payments from a proposed US$400 million (S$557.38 million) cholera response package.

But the UN does not have the money it needs for the proposed package, and is facing criticism that it still is avoiding legal culpability for one of the worst calamities to ever befall Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Roughly 9,500 Haitians have died from cholera - some researchers say the toll could be far greater - and hundreds of thousands have been sickened. The disease has surged in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

The proposed package follows the first acknowledgment by the UN in August that it played a role in the initial outbreak of the disease, six years ago, in October 2010.

The acknowledgment was made after a scathing internal report by an independent UN human rights adviser. The admission also came just before a federal appeals court in New York upheld the immunity of the UN from prosecution under a long-standing diplomatic treaty.

The most basic details of the proposed package are still under discussion.

"We want to do this because we think it's the right thing to do for the Haitian people, but frankly speaking, it's the right thing to do for the United Nations," Mr Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary-general, said in a telephone interview.

Whether the package will satisfy Haitian victims and their families who have unsuccessfully sought to sue the UN in the United States remains unclear. Lawyers for the victims have not yet decided whether to pursue further appeals, including to the US Supreme Court.