UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations rejected a claim for damages on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families on Thursday, citing diplomatic immunity.
The claim was filed in November 2011 by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a Boston-based human rights group that contended the U.N. and its peacekeeping force are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to adequately screen peacekeeping soldiers.
It cited studies suggesting that the disease was inadvertently brought to Haiti by a U.N. battalion from Nepal, where cholera is endemic. A local contractor failed to properly sanitize the waste of a U.N. base, and the bacteria leaked into a tributary of one of Haiti's biggest rivers, according to one study by a U.N.-appointed panel.
Cholera has sickened nearly 500,000 people and killed over 7,750 people since the outbreak began in October 2010, according to the Haitian government. About half the people in the country of 10 million have no bathroom at all and sanitation access is the worst in the Western Hemisphere.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the United Nations informed representatives of the claimant of the U.N. rejection on Thursday.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision "and to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to the elimination of cholera in Haiti," Nesirky said.
Brian Concannon, the institute's director, said that after 15 months, the rejection was a single sentence, based on the world organization's immunity, which said the claims are "not receivable" because they concern "a review of political and policy matters."
"Our case is about the U.N. dumping contaminated sewage in Haiti's waters that has caused thousands of deaths," he said. "Under this definition, any harm that the U.N. does to anybody would be a matter of policy."