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Haiti victims file cholera lawsuit

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Demanding compensation from the U.N. over an outbreak that killed more than 8,300

Cholera patients admitted to the Doctors Without Borders clinic in Delmas, Haiti, in this 2012 photo.;— Photo: AFP
Cholera patients admitted to the Doctors Without Borders clinic in Delmas, Haiti, in this 2012 photo.;— Photo: AFP

Victims of a Haiti cholera epidemic on Wednesday filed a lawsuit demanding compensation from the United Nations over an outbreak that killed more than 8,300 people.

The petition filed at the New York district court said at least 679,000 other people had fallen ill with cholera since the outbreak began in October 2010.

There had been no cholera in Haiti for at least 150 years until it was brought by U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal, lawyer Ira Kurzban told a news conference.

The United Nations, which refused to reach an out-of-court compensation settlement, said in February it was legally immune from action over the epidemic.

The epidemic’s source has been traced to a river that runs next to a U.N. camp in the central town of Mirebalais, where Nepalese troops had been based.

The strain of cholera in the deeply impoverished Caribbean nation is the same as one endemic in Nepal.

“The outbreak resulted from the negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct of the defendants,” said a copy of the petition seen by AFP.

It lists the defendants as the United Nations, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and at least two of their officers.

“We feel in this lawsuit were going to win,” Mr. Kurzban told reporters.

“This is a unique set of circumstances for which the United Nations cannot behind the shield of immunity.”

The U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which is representing 8,000 victims and families of those who died, says cholera continues to kill about 1,000 Haitians a year.

In May, the victims gave the United Nations a 60-day deadline to reach a compensation deal or face a lawsuit.

Lawyers at the time sought $100,000 for the family of each victim who died and $50,000 for each survivor, which could take the claim into several billion dollars.

On Wednesday the IJDH said it would up to the jury to set the limits of the compensation figure in court.

The epidemic dealt a new blow to Haiti as it struggled to overcome the strife caused by a January 2010 earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

The U.N. said in February the complaint from the victims’ lawyers was “non-receivable” under a 1946 convention setting out the U.N.’s immunities for its actions.

In December, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a $2.2-billion appeal, however, to raise money to provide clean water and health facilities in Haiti.

Mr. Kurzban accused the United Nations of stonewalling and said it had failed to meet fundraising goals on efforts to provide clean water and proper sanitation in Haiti. — AFP


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