U.S. rights group seeks compensation for cholera

A U.S.-based human rights group has filed a claim with the United Nations seeking millions of dollars in compensation and an apology on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitians affected by the country’s deadly cholera outbreak.

The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed the petition, which was sent to United Nations headquarters in New York. A copy was sent to the U.N. mission in Haiti.

The group says the U.N. and the mission there are liable because they failed to adequately screen peacekeepers from countries experiencing cholera outbreaks. The organization alleges untreated waste from a U.N. base was dumped into a tributary of Haiti’s Artibonite River, the country’s longest and most important waterway, and that the U.N. failed to adequately respond to the epidemic.

The petitioners are demanding $100,000 in compensation on behalf of every cholera victim who died and $50,000 for every person who became ill but survived. The organization representing them is threatening a full court case if a settlement with the U.N. cannot be reached. The outbreak has been traced to Nepalese peacekeepers.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky confirmed receipt of the petition, but would not comment on it. He said the U.N.’s position is that of the experts’ report in that a convergence of circumstances caused the outbreak.

In December, the U.N. said its mission and Haiti’s government carried out tests of water samples from the Nepalese base and adjacent waters and that the results were negative. This past May, a panel of independent experts commissioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a report that found that the epidemic was “introduced into Haiti as a result of human activity.” It noted the strain of bacteria was not native to Haiti and “is very similar to, but not identical, to the South Asian strain” of cholera.

The cholera outbreak in Haiti has sickened nearly 500,000 people and killed more than 6,500 others since it began 13 months ago.

In its statement Tuesday, the Boston organization said the Haitians filing the claims are all either victims of the disease or relatives of victims.

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