Haitian-American elected officials are asking the U.S. State Department not to side with the United Nations in a legal battle over a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed more than 8,000 and sickened more than 700,000 Haitians.
State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry of Massachusetts, a member of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, saying the organization was “concerned that the U.N. will now try to prevent the victims from having their day in court by asking your Department to intervene in favor of its impunity.”
“We urge you and your Department to stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court,” she said in the letter.
Forry did not elaborate on why the network or lawyers who sued the U.N. in October on behalf of victims of the waterborne disease believe the U.N. would seek the State Department’s support.
Brian Concannon of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti said the U.N. typically asks the country where the suit is filed to tell the courts that that they cannot accept a case against the U.N.
“Sometimes the U.S. just passes the U.N.'s position on to the court, but sometimes it makes a more vigorous defense of the organization. These letters are intended to push toward the former option,” said Concannon, whose group represents victims.
The letter comes on the heels of two South Florida Haitian-American advocacy groups — the Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami — filing of a friend-of-the-court brief in federal court in Manhattan late last month in support of the suit.
Victims’ lawyers say process servers have been unable to serve the suit, and the Miami groups asked the court to declare that the U.N. has been properly served.
The U.N. has refused to comment on the lawsuit but instead pointed to a $2.2 billion, 10-year cholera-eradication plan to stamp out the disease in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic through improved infrastructure and other projects. The initiative, however, has struggled to get donors’ support.
Since cholera was discovered in Haiti in October 2010, scientific studies have found evidence linking the outbreak to Nepalese soldiers deployed to Haiti shortly after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city.