By Vanessa Hershberger, Program Associate at the MCC United Nations office in New York, with input from Wawa and Kristen Chege, Policy Analysts for MCC Haiti.
With the rainy season looming in Haiti, there is little good news to look forward to since the cholera outbreak of cholera in October of 2010. It was then that the United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping troops from Nepal inadvertently brought the deadly disease to Haiti, when inadequate waste disposal methods led to a sewage leak into the Artibonite River. It quickly spread throughout the country in the main water source for thousands of Haitians. To date, over 699,000 people have been infected and at least 8,500 have died from this relatively easy to treat disease. Due to a severe lack of resources and access to funds, many of those sickened are unable to get the treatment they need. The U.N. has shown their verbal support of the $2.2 billion National Cholera Eradication Plan developed in 2012 for Haiti, which would eradicate cholera and fund sanitation infrastructure, but have made little tangible gains in raising funds for this plan. Disappointingly, the UN has continually denied their role and responsibility in this whole devastating saga, even as a lawsuit is brought against them seeking reparations for the victims and their families.
Some welcoming news came in late February in the form of a report of the Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallón. With some people within the U.N. willing to speak up in support of Haitian compensation including U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay and former Canadian U.N. Ambassador Stephen Lewis, Gallón’s statements highlight the inner struggles within the UN system. In his report, he affirms that “the diplomatic difficulties which surround this question should be overcome to guarantee for the Haitian population the end of the epidemic in the shortest time possible as well as full reparation for the damages that were suffered… silence is the worst of all responses” (A/HRC/25/71, par. 77). Those tasked with defending human rights for all around the world understand that access to a mechanism for grievances is a human right and by being silent on the issue, the U.N. continues to deny affected Haitians access to their fundamental human rights.
As part of our continued efforts to respond to the needs of our Haitian partners, MCC recently submitted a contribution in response to a request by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human right to clean drinking water and sanitation. In the letter, we contend that the cholera epidemic, and the circumstances surrounding it, represents a major violation of these two basic human rights by the U.N. As the symbol of international cooperation, the U.N. should be the first to lead by example, taking responsibility when implicated, and respecting international human rights mechanisms that they themselves have been instrumental in developing.
From the letter (PDF):
In the case of Haiti, the United Nations has violated the right of the people of Haiti to safe drinking water and sanitation. By neglecting to screen peacekeeping personnel coming from a cholera endemic area, engaging in inadequate waste management on U.N. premises, and refusing to remedy this violation in a timely manner, a major cholera epidemic is now present in Haiti. Because Haiti’s main water source, the Artibonite River, is now contaminated with this deadly waterborne disease, Haitians dependent on this water for their daily activities have been, and continue to be, at a high risk of contracting cholera.
Under international human rights law, all humans have the right to access to safe water for “personal and domestic uses, defined as water for drinking, personal sanitation, washing clothes, food preparation, and personal and household hygiene.” If states themselves are to be held to a commitment of ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, it is of vital importance for the United Nations to portray its commitment to defending this right to water, and at a very minimum stand above reproach for breaching the right as outlined in various articles