Haitians sue UN over cholera epidemic

NEW YORK — Nearly 1,500 Haitians filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking compensation from the United Nations for victims of a cholera outbreak that health officials say has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened over 600,000 in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Scientific studies have shown that cholera was likely introduced in Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected a previous claim for compensation for cholera victims, citing diplomatic immunity, but announced a $2.27 billion initiative to help eradicate cholera in Haiti in December 2012.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court seeks compensations for deaths and illnesses and funding for clean water in Haiti, which was devastated by a 2010 earthquake.

The suit includes documents which the plaintiffs say clearly show that the U.N. waived its immunity. It asks the court to declare that the U.N. has no immunity.

The documents include the U.N.’s 2004 agreement on the status of U.N. forces in Haiti, and a document stating that the U.N. General Assembly assumes “liability for damage caused by members of its forces in the performance of their duties.”

Human rights groups filed a similar lawsuit in Manhattan federal court in October blaming the United Nations for the cholera outbreak and seeking compensation for victims. It sought class-action status to pursue relief for all victims of the disease, which it said the U.N. spread by contaminating Haiti’s principal river with cholera-infected human waste beginning in October 2010.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement to the Manhattan court saying the U.N., its peacekeeping force, the secretary-general and the U.N. peacekeeping chief “are immune from suit … in this case.”

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