Above: United Nations headquarters in New York (Photo: UN)
By Alexander Britell
All of the defendants in the Haiti cholera lawsuit are “immune from legal process and suit,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara wrote in a statement of interest submitted to Federal Judge Paul Oetken on Friday.
In a blow to the suit seeking compensation for victims of cholera in Haiti, the United States government, through Bharara, said the United Nations could not be served or sued in the case.
“The UN, including its integral component, defendant the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, is absolutely immune from legal process and suit absent an express waiver, pursuant to the charter of the United Nations,” Bharara wrote. “In this case, the UN, including MINUSTAH, has not waived its immunity from legal process and suit, and instead has repeatedly and expressly asserted its absolute immunity.”
Bharara also said that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former Undersecretary-General for MINUSTAH Edmond Mulet were “similarly immune from legal process and suit,” pursuant to the UN Charter and the Vienna Conventions.
Bharara was writing the statement of interest in response to a Feb. 7 court order concerning whether the plaintiffs had effectively served the United Nations.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had been seeking, unsuccessfully, to officially serve the United Nations with the lawsuit, which has repeatedly ignored these attempts.
The weight of scientific evidence has concluded that cholera was brought to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, with the outbreak most likely resulting from the dumping of infected sewage into the banks of the Meille Tributary.
The outbreak has killed more than 8000 people in Haiti and the disease has spread to Cuba.
In a letter in December, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power similarly urged US authorities to “take appropriate action to ensure full respect for the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and its officials.”
On Friday, State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the brief had not been filed “out of a lack of empathy.”
“In cases like this, we don’t file a brief out of a lack of empathy,” she said. “We – the United States has legally binding treaty obligations that require it to afford the UN immunity from suit and also provide immunity for UN officials. That’s why it was important to file the brief and why we filed the brief.”