Scientists in the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention blamed El Tor, a strain of Vibrio cholera bacterium found in Indonesia in 1961 and ‘’spread rapidly elsewhere in eastern Asia’’ including India, Bangladesh, and Iraq. Sweden’s ambassador to Haiti named Nepal as the source. The Associated Press reported that broken pipes were leaking faeces into Artibonite River from a military camp hosting Nepali UN peacekeepers. Artibonite is the largest river in Haiti and the country’s main source of drinking water.
The Atlantic (August 16, 2013) estimates that the cholera epidemic had killed 8,000 and infected 600,000 Haitians, constituting 7 per cent of the population. By November 2011 angry and panic-stricken Haitians rioted for five days and demanded the expulsion of the Nepalese brigade from Haiti. Nepal’s representative to the United Nations and UN officials ‘’categorically refuted the hypothesis that Nepal’s peacekeepers were the source of the outbreak’’.
In 2012 the Bureau des Avocate Internationaie and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed court cases against the United Nations. In November 2011 the UN received a petition by 5,000 victims, demanding financial reparation; installation of a sanitation network, and an apology. In a letter to members of the U. S. Congress, the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, said the UN would not compensate victims because it was against existing policy, and would set an expensive precedent.
This stance raises several disturbing issues. First, Haiti is part of the ‘’African Diaspora’’ that should make it part of the African Union. There is no evidence that African diplomatic pressure has been brought to bear on the UN. Secondly, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal have a strong record in UN peacekeeping whose moral basis is the protection and promotion of human rights, a fundamental mission of the United Nations. Mr Ban’s refusal for the UN to assume responsibility links this duty with impunity.
The unequivocal rejection of responsibility by the ambassador of Nepal, despite published evidence by reputable scientists and researchers, is morally wrong. It is understandable that countries earn valuable income for their troops deployed in UN peacekeeping assignments around the world; however, fear of losing such funds is misplaced. Nepal should join Haiti and other African countries to interrogate the possibility that their troops were housed in degrading unsanitary conditions without adequate facilities for evacuation of wastes, precisely because they are cynically assumed to come from environments where such conditions are considered to be ‘’normal’’. That attitude must be combated and not glossed over.
Africa’s leading contributors to UN peacekeeping duties should assume responsibility for reform in this sector. Responsible organisations have accused the UN of abandoning legal obligations in The Convention on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations that demands that it ‘’make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement for claims that arise from its missions’’. At a time when the Vice President of Kenya is standing trial at the ICC for alleged violations of rights to life, the African Union should insist that the United Nations must assume responsibility for those rights in Haiti; as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where UN peacekeepers are charged with standing bye as militiamen linked to the M23 rebel movement attacked civilians, killing many of them. Africa must stand up for Haiti and the health of peacekeepers being given priority by the UN.