Haitians who suffered from a post-earthquake cholera outbreak that killed thousands and infected hundreds of thousands more are trying, perhaps fruitlessly, to sue the United Nations for billions in damages. Allegations have for been spread for years that U.N. peacekeeping troops sent to provide relief following the devastating 7.0-earthquake in January 2010 were the source of the outbreak.
In 2010, Haitians abruptly started suffering from cholera for the first time in over a century because, according to many accounts, foreign peacekeepers working with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti reintroduced the disease into the country. The Guardian explains:
The outbreak has killed more than 8,000 people and made 650,000 ill, according to officials, and scientific studies have shown the cholera strain was likely introduced to the country by UN troops from Nepal, where the disease is endemic, when contaminated sewage was discharged from their barracks into a watercourse. Before that cholera cases had been rare in Haiti.
Things have eased since, comparatively, but 1,000 Haitians still die every year from what should be a preventable disease. Meanwhile, the U.N. refuses to pay compensation to victims, despite some internal discord over this, and have claimed complete legal immunity from the incident.
Which brings the case to New York, where lawyers from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti are representing five cholera victims in the suit, which will be filed on Wednesday. "We are asking for the judge to find the United Nations liable," the institute's spokesperson, Beatrice Lindstrom, told The New York Times. As the BBC notes, the case seeks "$100,000 for every person who died and $50,000 for each of those who became ill." Some back of the napkin math says that's a $33,300,000,000 bill.
The U.N. is widely considered immune from this kind of legal action, leading to predictions that the case will never make it before a judge. "The majority view is that the U.N. and U.N. entities are immune from domestic lawsuits," a legal expert told the Times. However, at least one important U.N. official thinks Haitians should be compensated for the outbreak, although she didn't say by who, or how much they should receive. "I still stand by the call that victims of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation," Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s top human rights official, said Tuesday.