United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who will step down at the end of this month, made his most explicit apology yet for the UN’s role and responsibility in Haiti’s cholera epidemic, the world’s worst.
However, in his ballyhooed Dec. 1 address to the UN General Assembly, Ban stopped short of admitting that UN soldiers militarily occupying Haiti since 2004 introduced the deadly bacterial disease into the country in 2010.
“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologize to the Haitian people,” Ban said in the nugget of his long speech in French, English, and Kreyòl. “We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role.”
UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whose scathing report last August put Ban on the hot seat, rightly dubbed it a “half-apology.”
“He apologizes that the UN has not done more to eradicate cholera, but not for causing the disease in the first place,” Alston told the Guardian.
The epidemic began in October 2010 when cholera-laced sewage from Nepalese UN soldiers’ outhouses leaked into the headwaters of Haiti’s most important river, the Artibonite. Within a year, it had spread throughout the country. To date, cholera has killed about 10,000 Haitians and sickened one million.
Ban’s 11th hour “half-apology” comes after a relentless campaign of legal suits, popular protests, letter writing, condemnation by celebrities, and a withering torrent of critical press reports, books, and films.
The legal crusade began on Nov. 3, 2011 when lawyers with the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) filed a claim within the UN’s internal grievance system to obtain compensation for Haiti’s cholera victims, as well as a formal apology and the construction of modern water and sanitation systems. They were rebuffed in February 2013, a year and a half later, with a two page letter simply stating that the claims were “not receivable” because the UN enjoys legal immunity.
For the next three years, the IJDH, along with other legal teams, attempted to sue the UN in New York State courts, but in 2015 and 2016 decisions, both district and appeals courts upheld the UN’s legal immunity, as argued by U.S. government attorneys. (The UN never deigned to appear.)
But as lawyer Brian Concannon, Jr., the IJDH’s executive director, noted: “Every time they had a victory in court supporting their supposed legal immunity, it turned into a public relations disaster due to the negative press coverage and its amplification by social media.”
As Special Rapporteur Alston remarked, the UN was employing a “stonewalling” strategy and “double standard” which “undermines both the UN’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”
It is true that the United Nations Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) troops “did not do enough” to stop cholera’s spread from the central Artibonite Valley where it emerged. As a veteran cholera-fighting Cuban doctor told Haïti Liberté when the epidemic began in October 2010: “They are doing exactly the wrong thing” by admitting cholera patients into general hospitals and clinics and not sealing off the outbreak area.
Ban’s carefully worded apology, similar to his 2014 tour of Haiti with statements citing the UN’s “moral duty” to fight cholera, seek to repair the UN’s tattered credibility and Ban’s pock-marked legacy, while avoiding any true legal liability and obligations.
“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,” said Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.
To sweeten the deal, Ban promised (although he won’t be around) that the UN would try to raise “around $400 million over two years” to support efforts like a cholera vaccination campaign (which Haitian biologist/journalist Dady Chery condemns as “useless”) as well as “improvements in people’s access to care and treatment when sick, while also addressing the longer-term issues of water, sanitation, and health systems.” This latter step is the only way to stop the spread of cholera.
The UN’s previous anti-cholera fund drives have been singularly unsuccessful, raising only 18% of a $2.1 billion “Cholera Elimination” plan proposed for 2013-2022. As Concannon told a Dec. 2 conference call, “as hard as we fought to get those promises made, we’re going to have to fight even harder to get those promises fulfilled.”
“For six years, the UN has been saying it doesn’t have the money,” Concannon continued. “We’ve been saying that they’ve been spending between $800 million to $400 million a year for over 12 years for a ‘peacekeeping mission’ in a country which has not had a war in my lifetime… Since the cholera epidemic started, the MINUSTAH has spent over $4 billion, and we think that’s a powerful argument to make when the UN says it doesn’t have money for a cholera epidemic which they started, while they have plenty of money for a ‘grave threat against international peace’ which never existed.”
Indeed, it remains to be seen if the UN will use its new cholera-fighting promises to prolong the mandate of the highly unpopular MINUSTAH, which was originally proposed to deploy only six months in 2004. Its latest six-month extension expires in April 2016, before which the mission will undergo a “strategic assessment,” Ban said in August.
In conjunction with his Dec. 1 address, Ban released a Nov. 25 report to the General Assembly entitled “A new approach to cholera in Haiti.” In it, he referred to a 2013 UN-commissioned medical panel’s report which stated that “the exact source of introduction of cholera into Haiti will never be known with scientific certainty,” however, “the preponderance of the evidence and the weight of the circumstantial evidence does lead to the conclusion that personnel associated with the Mirebalais MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source.” This is the closest Ban ever came to an actual admission of guilt for an epidemic whose source “will never be known with scientific certainty.”
“We’re moving forward but we’re not finished,” said Jean-Charles August, a teacher from Petit-Goâve, who is one of the cholera victims represented by IJDH and its sister International Lawyers Bureau (BAI) in Haiti. “We want eradication and compensation.”
“This is more of a beginning than an end in terms of our fight,” Concannon told the conference call of lawyers, activists, and journalists. In the weeks and months ahead, the IJDH, along with the Haitian government and others, will be in negotiations with the UN for exactly how “eradication and compensation” should come about. The current Haitian UN ambassador, Jean Wesley Cazeau, applauded Ban’s “radical change of attitude” and looked forward to concrete results.
As a Dec. 5 New York Daily News editorial summed up the situation: “Up next, and urgently: a practical reckoning to undo the damage done.”
In short, only time will tell if Ban’s parting gesture reflects a genuine committment within the UN to compensate the Haitian people and eradicate cholera, or was simply a head-feint to continue the UN’s shameful record over the last 70 year, from Korea to Afghanistan to Haiti, of leaving death and destruction in countries it invades (at Washington’s behest) to supposedly help.
Kim Ives is the English language editor of the weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté.
Six Ways Trump Could Help Haiti Recover from Clinton Disaster. Prosecute the Clintons? Will He do It??
Donald Trump won the United States presidency against Hillary Clinton because he was the only candidate who seriously competed against her. One of President-Elect Trump’s major prizes in the election was the swing state of Florida, which flickered between red and blue throughout much of the night of November 8-9, 2016, eventually to remain a steady red after Trump won it by 120,000 votes.
Many of South Florida’s 150,000 Haitian-American voters came out for Trump, though they had traditionally voted for Democrats, because they knew intimately about the wreck the Clintons had made of Haiti. Plenty of other Americans had also become disgusted by the Clintons’ treatment of Haiti. Many of them lived in Florida, and Wikileaks and other independent journalists had confirmed their worst suspicions.
For Haitian-Americans, the US presidential race was a fight not only to wrest our native land from the Clintons, but also our adopted homeland. The US would have been Hillary Clinton’s next target after she and her cronies had refined in Haiti their methods to rig elections, co-opt journalists, and destroy economies. The evidence of wrongdoing was there for all to see, but throughout the yearlong campaign by the Greens, Libertarians, Republicans, and Democrats, Mr. Trump was the only candidate who singled out Clinton’s indefensible pay-to-play conduct in Haiti for attack. Thus he shot the fatal arrow through her Achilles’ heel and won the White House.
Haiti will need the US’ assistance to recover from more than 20 years of disasters wrought by the Clintons. A new Trump administration may expect to get the return vote of Haitian-Americans and Haitianophiles in 2020 if it helps Haiti in the following six ways.
1. Bring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton to justice. More than $9 billion of aid funds for Haiti from international donors, collected through the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) for reconstruction from the January 2010 earthquake, have gone missing. We hope that, as promised, a special prosecutor will be appointed to look into the allegations of financial improprieties by the Clinton family. We further hope that this special prosecutor’s office will investigate their alleged crimes in Haiti as well as the US, and charge them with conspiracy and racketeering, as appropriate. If they are found guilty, the funds should be recovered and their properties attached as a means to remunerate the Haitian government.
2. Assist Haiti diplomatically in its efforts to recover damages from the United Nations for the cholera epidemic. The UN has contaminated Haiti twice with cholera, the first time in 2010 with a cholera strain from Nepal, and the second time after 2012 with cholera from Bangladesh. Currently the UN is only pretending to fight the cholera epidemics that it introduced into Haiti. It is doing so by inoculating hundreds of thousands Haitians with an oral cholera vaccine that is completely ineffective and potentially harmful. Even with an efficacious vaccine, such a campaign would be morally vacuous because its purpose is to allow people to drink water that is contaminated with sewage. The UN must pay damages to individual Haitians for infecting about 700,000 people with cholera and killing about 10,000 others because of its negligence. Furthermore, as reparation, the UN must provide the means to rebuild the country’s waste-treatment and potable-water infrastructures.
3. End without delay the UN military occupation of Haiti. In February 2004, the US government deposed Haiti’s President. Three months later, Bill Clinton, together with Lula da Silva’s now-disgraced administration in Brazil, organized to install an illegal military occupation of Haiti by the so-called UN peacekeepers (MINUSTAH). These troops have been involved in rapes, murders, massacres, and the introduction of epidemics of disease. The great majority of Haitians object to their presence.
4. Fire and replace all State Department and USAID personnel for Haiti from the Clinton or Obama administrations. Such individuals have been part of a corruption machine. They have participated, not only in cases of financial fraud that caused more than $13 billion of international aid to disappear but also in the election fraud that allowed them to install a corrupt dictator, Michel Martelly, as president so they could pillage the country.
5. Adopt a policy of non-interference in Haitian elections. On November 20, 2016 Haiti will repeat its first-round presidential elections and some legislative elections. This follows the invalidation of elections in October 2015 after a discovery of massive fraud that probably involved the election workers and international monitors. We ask that the US bring some pressure to bear on France, Canada, Brazil, Spain, and Chile to refrain from attempting to influence the new elections.
6. Stop US agricultural subsidies for rice farmers. As recently as in the 1980s, Haiti was a thriving agricultural country, but in 2014-15 alone, Haiti’s import of agricultural products increased by 30 percent, and its trade deficit for agricultural goods exceeded $900 million. This process began in 1994 with a systematic Clinton dumping of subsidized Arkansas rice in Haiti. The ever-creative US mainstream press, however, has blamed the end result, not on Bill and Hillary Clinton but on Hurricane Matthew. To rebuild its economy, Haiti will need to eliminate unfair competition from subsidized US agricultural goods.
Haiti has endured, in addition to natural disasters, a vicious warfare by the Clintons for many years, even as they have claimed to be the country’s staunchest partners and greatest friends.
More than charity, Haiti needs truth, fairness and justice. If the US will grant those things, Haitians and Haitian-Americans will do the rest.
Dady Chery is the author of We Have Dared to Be Free. Photograph one US Air Force archive; photograph five and seven by Zoriah; photographs eight and ten from the UN Photo archive; and photograph nine from USAID archive.