A woman holds her sick child as he receives treatment for cholera at a Doctors Without Borders, MSF, cholera clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP)

Victims of the 2010 cholera epidemic should get their day in New York federal courts and ultimately be compensated for pain and suffering caused by UN troops

A woman holds her sick child as he receives treatment for cholera at a Doctors Without Borders, MSF, cholera clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP)

by Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

A legal battle is looming in federal courts in New York over compensation to victims of the 2010 cholera outbreak in the Caribbean country.

Survivors of the outbreak that took the lives of thousands of people and sickened tens of thousands more are taking their cases to federal court in New York after failing to get the United Nations to offer compensation for their pain, suffering and loss of relatives.

And they are being joined by members of the large Haitian Diaspora in the Northeastern region of U.S. and Florida, including elected officials in Massachusetts and New York who want Washington to stay out of the looming court fight by not joining hands with the UN to frustrate the wishes of those who survived the outbreak four years ago.

What the Haitians are asking the U.S. federal court to do is decline to grant the UN immunity from legal action in the wake of law suits filed recently in the federal district court in Brooklyn in November. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation from the international organization for the tragedy which occurred when UN peace-keeping and humanitarian forces allegedly took the disease to the Caribbean country after the earthquake.

“We were a country free of cholera and all available scientific evidence suggests the UN forces introduced cholera into Haiti” Dr. Mathieu Eugene, a Haitian immigrant who belongs to the New York City Council told the Carib News. “It is important that the suits filed on behalf of the Haitian victims be allowed to proceed in the federal courts. That’s what this country is about: justice and Haitians too must get justice.”

Dr. Eugene, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now in his second and final term at City Hall, said that Haitians should be compensated for the “pain and suffering” they suffered “as a result of the spread of the disease after the devastating deadly earthquake hit in 2010 killing an estimated 250,000 people; leaving more than a million nationals homeless; and causing billions of dollars in damage to the country’s infrastructure.

Hundreds of cholera victims and their relatives filed a class action suit in New York earlier this month seeking to block any immunity being granted to the UN. Back in November, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based organization filed a suit in New York seeking compensation for the deaths and the injuries to other victims caused by the outbreak. More than 2,000 Haitian died and thousands more were sickened by the disease. In all, there are about four law suits now before U.S. courts in connection with the cholera epidemic and they can be traced to what is being generally seen as an unwillingness of the U.N to assume responsibility for the tragedy. Scientists have said that UN soldiers from Nepal took the disease to Haiti and contributed to its spread because of poor sanitation which caused human waste to seep into rivers and streams that Haitians used as drinking water.

A U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, was quoted recently as saying in response to questions about the suits that it was “standard practice for the organization to assert its immunity in cases filed against it in national courts. In short, the action by the U.S. State Department’s action to uphold UN immunity was nothing new.

However, Evelyn Swiderski, a spokesperson for the lawyers involved in the class-action suit cited documents which “explicitly waived sovereign immunity” when UN peacekeeping troops were first sent to Haiti in 2004.

“This express waiver of immunity by the United Nations was missed by the U.S. government in a letter” filed with the court in New York City Swiderski insisted.

But Dr. Eugene, the first Haitian-born immigrant to be elected to the City Council, wasn’t the only elected official of Haitian descent to insist that the U.S. shouldn’t try to block the suits.

Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who also belongs to the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, has fired off a letter U.S. Secretary of State warning against the U.N seeking to frustrate the efforts of Haitian to get justice in U.S. courts.

She was worried, she said, that the “UN will now try to prevent the victims o from having their day in court by asking your Department to intervene in favor of its impunity.

“We urge you and your department to stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court,” she added.

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