United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that the international organisation played a role in the initial outbreak of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, reported The New York Times. He said a “significant new set of UN actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis.
More than 30,000 people died after the epidemic hit Haiti in 2010, reported The Guardian. The first cases of cholera were reported from an area near a base that housed 454 UN peacekeepers who had just arrived in the country from Nepal, which was dealing with a cholera outbreak at that point. Several experts have argued that the outbreak in Haiti started from the UN base. However, the UN has so far held that the origin is debatable.
The deputy spokesperson for the secretary general, Farhan Haq, said, "Over the past year, the UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera." He added the UN is coordinating with the Haiti government and other member states about a new response to the crisis. According to him, it will be made public, once it is finalised in the next two months.
The statement comes after UN advisor and New York University law professor Philip Alston submitted a report to Ban, which observed that the epidemic "would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations." In the 19-page document, Alston said the UN's Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He said the organisation's constant denial of its involvement in the outbreak "upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself."
He said that “as the magnitude of the disaster became known, key international officials carefully avoided acknowledging that the outbreak had resulted from discharges from the camp." Alston also criticised the organisation's Office of Legal Affairs, on whose behest, he claims, "considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of seeking a constructive and just solution" were overruled. The report was submitted on August 8.