While the UN has long denied responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton acknowledged today that a MINUSTAH soldier introduced the deadly bacteria that has killed over 7,000 and sickened more than half a million. The statement by Clinton is the first by a UN official to acknowledge UN responsibility.
Independent journalist Ansel Herz reported via Twitter this afternoon that at a press conference in Mirebalais, Haiti, Bill Clinton acknowledged “that a UN peacekeeping soldier brought cholera to Haiti by accident.” Herz has just posted the audio recording of Clinton’s comments, during which he responds to a question from Herz by stating:
I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera into Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia was aware that he was carrying the virus. [Ed. Note: cholera is not a virus, but bacteria].
It was the proximate cause of cholera, that is, he was carrying the cholera strain; it came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti and into the bodies of Haitians.
Clinton goes on to repeat the line from the UN investigation, which shifts blame off the UN and onto Haiti for not having adequate water and sanitation infrastructure. Clinton states that, “what really caused it is that you don’t have a sanitation system, you don’t have a comprehensive water system…”
This explanation, however neglects to account for the fact that as the UN’s own investigation found, “sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River.” Had the UN adequately disposed of their waste, the outbreak would never have begun. Additionally, the UN failed to screen troops prior to their deployment from a cholera endemic region.
Since the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed a claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims in November, the UN has not responded and repeatedly denied their responsibility. The statement today marks an important shift from these repeated denials.
This acknowledgement of responsibility comes on the heels of statements made by U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice, which IJDH and BAI applauded in a press release earlier this week:
With Bill Clinton’s comments today, perhaps the UN will finally begin taking responsibility for the deadly epidemic and heed calls for financial compensation to victims and investment in critical life-saving infrastructure.
In a statement to the United Nations (UN) Security Council last week, U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice stressed the importance of UN accountability for its role in bringing cholera to Haiti, calling on the UN to “redouble its efforts to prevent any further incidents of this kind and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”