Thursday April 25, 2019

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologizes to people of Haiti, 6 Years after UN Peacekeepers were blamed for Causing Cholera Epidemic on Island Nation

The secretary-general addressed the Haitian people directly, making his apology in both Creole and French, as well as English

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the Cyprus reunification talks in Switzerland, Nov. 7, 2016. The United Nations leader apologized three times to the people of Haiti, Dec. 1, 2016, in Creole, French and English for the cholera outbreak after the 2010 earthquake. VOA
United Nations, December 2, 2016: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologised to the people of Haiti on Thursday, more than six years after U.N. peacekeepers were blamed for causing a deadly cholera epidemic on the island nation.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: We apologise to the Haitian people,” Ban told an informal meeting of U.N. member states.

“We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” he added.

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The secretary-general addressed the Haitian people directly, making his apology in both Creole and French, as well as English.

Ban’s apology, his most direct to date, fell short of admitting that U.N. peacekeepers brought the potentially fatal illness to Haiti.

“This has cast a shadow upon the relationship between the United Nations and the people of Haiti,” he said. “It is a blemish on the reputation of U.N. peacekeeping and the organisation worldwide.”

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Ban, who will leave office at the end of this month, said the U.N. has a moral responsibility to act and deliver for the sake of the Haitian people, but also for the sake of the United Nations itself.

“We now recognize that we had a role in this, but to go to the extent of taking full responsibility for all, is a step that would not be possible for us to take,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters.

More than 9,000 died

It is widely accepted that Nepalese peacekeepers who were sent to assist Haiti in its recovery after the devastating 2010 earthquake, contaminated a branch of the Artibonite River with cholera.

The river is the country’s main water source for tens of thousands of Haitians. Subsequently more than 9,000 people died of the disease, which can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting, and some 800,000 were sickened.

Haiti’s U.N. Ambassador Denis Regis said the U.N.’s apology represents “a radical change of attitude.”

“The U.N. has shown it can admit making mistakes as well as draw the lessons for the future and address the harm and damage done, even when done involuntarily,” the envoy said.

Litigation

Some of the victims sought compensation, suing the United Nations in U.S. District court, but the court ruled that the international organization is protected by diplomatic immunity.

Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) has represented some of the victims. He welcomed the secretary-general’s apology.

“It appears to be a pretty strong and really historic step forward,” Concannon told VOA. But he is keeping the legal option open.

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“We did not file a lawsuit because we wanted to win a lawsuit,” he said. “We filed a lawsuit because we wanted the U.N. to apologize, and to install the water and sanitation necessary to stop cholera, and to compensate the victims. If the U.N. is going to do that without a lawsuit, it’s better for all concerned.”

A girl receives an oral cholera vaccine at the Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti, Nov. 8, 2016. VOA
A girl receives an oral cholera vaccine at the Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti, Nov. 8, 2016. VOA

A girl receives an oral cholera vaccine at the Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, Haiti, Nov. 8, 2016.

Eradicating cholera

The United Nations released a 16-page report Thursday which details a two-track “new approach” to cholera in Haiti. It calls for $400 million in initial funding.

The first track involves intensifying the U.N.’s support to reducing and ultimately ending the transmission of the water-borne illness through improved access to health care and treatment. It also seeks to address the longer-term issues of water, sanitation and health systems in Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and did not have an adequate sanitation infrastructure at the time of the 2010 earthquake, which contributed to the rapid spread of the disease and difficulty in containing it. The government has said it wants to eradicate cholera by 2022.

The second track appears to still be under development, but would focus financial assistance packages to community-based projects to help those most affected by cholera.

Haiti has struggled with thousands of new suspected cholera cases in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which wreaked havoc on the nation on October 4. (VOA)

Next Story

Concerns Rise Over China’s Stand at United Nations Human Rights Council

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing's human rights record during the most recent process.

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The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. RFA

Rights activists are increasingly worried that Beijing’s influence operations are having a negative impact on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which concludes its 40th session on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) China director Sophie Richardson warned in an article this week that China is seeking to undermine the mission of the U.N. Human Rights Council from within.

She also cited HRW research in 2017 which reported threats and harassment of U.N. staff involved in human rights evaluation by Chinese officials.

“As we head towards the final phase of [China’s U.N. human rights review], ask yourself: What other government threatens #humanrights treaty body experts?” Richardson tweeted on Thursday.

“As an [Human Rights Council] member #China is expected to uphold highest standards,” she wrote in another tweet, referencing a report in The New York Times. “Instead it tells people that merely attending an event is a ‘hostile act.'”

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During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council. VOA

According to HRW’s 2017 article based on a 97-page report: “Chinese officials have at times harassed and intimidated U.N. staff, experts on treaty bodies, and independent experts focusing on specific human rights issues.”

The 2014 death in detention of activist Cao Shunli, who was detained on her way to a U.N. human rights event in Geneva, also sent a “chilling” message to Chinese activists who may want to participate in the U.N. human rights process, the article said.

HRW isn’t the only human rights organization worried about Chinese influence at the U.N.

Renee Xia, who heads the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, reported from a side-event of the Human Rights Council conference in Geneva this week that it was “standing room only.”

“Strong show of interest despite #China urging countries not to attend,” Xia tweeted.

“The strong attendance was more remarkable esp. after #China officials went to many countries’ diplomats at the U.N., Geneva, to threaten them with “serious consequences” if they attended the side events,” she wrote in another tweet.

“#Bullying at the UN must stop!” she wrote.

‘So many restrictions’

Wang Dan, a former leader of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, is also in Geneva this week.

“To tell you the truth, my feelings during my two days here are that China has huge influence at the U.N.,” Wang told RFA.

“For example, at one side-event, it wasn’t just the Chinese delegation who spoke against [criticisms of Beijing’s rights record], but other countries came to speak in support of China’s position,” he said.

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“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights, Pixabay

Wang said tight controls over public speech also make it less likely that the ruling Chinese Communist Party will have to face criticism of human rights violations coming from within its own borders.

“There are a lot of people online in China, but they are under so many restrictions,” he said. “You can’t mention the Tiananmen Massacre. You can’t mention [late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner] Liu Xiaobo. You can’t say this, you can’t say that.”

“I don’t think that’s how you define freedom … but then the Chinese point to the U.N. charter, which says that all member states must be respected,” he said.

‘Autocratic rule the default’

Veteran New York-based rights activist Liu Qing said the work of the council had become “unrecognizable” to him.

“Many of the countries participating in the Human Rights Council are actually the ones that are carrying out the most violations of human rights,” Liu told RFA.

“The only purpose of these countries in insinuating themselves into the Human Rights Council is to curb the positive role of the Human Rights Council and make autocratic rule the default setting on the international stage,” he said.

Amnesty International blogger Shao Jiang wrote in December 2018 that Beijing is reinterpreting universal human rights as merely the right to survival, freedom to access food, and regards other definitions of human rights as secondary to trade and economic development.

“The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the U.N. treaty bodies,” Shao said.

China has passed human rights reviews twice before this one, while more than 120 countries Beijing’s human rights record during the most recent process.

During the recent round, the Chinese government said it accepted most of the 346 human rights recommendations put forward by the council.

Also Read: Myanmar Government Calls Ethnic Armed Groups To Attend Collective Peace Discussions For The First Time

The United Nations now reports annually on government reprisals against human rights defenders participating in U.N. human rights efforts, Richardson wrote in an article in The Hill last December.

“China has topped the list of offenders in every report issued,” she said. (RFA)