The law firm representing hundreds of Haitian cholera victims in a complaint against the U.N. said it served Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with the lawsuit as he entered an event in New York City early Friday.
Representatives for Ban, however, deny that he was served.
Stan Alpert, one of the attorneys for the 1,500 plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in March at a federal court in Brooklyn, said a professional process server placed the documents in Ban’s hand as he walked into the Asia Society in midtown Manhattan to give a speech on violence in Syria. A security guard quickly slapped the lawsuit out of Ban’s hand and, as the secretary general walked inside, Alpert said another security guard picked up the papers and walked in after Ban.
It’s the first time the firm or any attorney representing Haitian cholera victims and their families, has been able to get close enough to a high-ranking U.N. official, after months of attempts, to handover a complaint.
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The lawsuit filed by Alpert and his colleagues is one of several legal cases seeking to get the U.N. to take responsibility for a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti, which some studies show was brought by U.N. peacekeeping troops months after the country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake. The outbreak has killed more than 9,000 Haitians and sickened 700,000.
“We’d attempted several methods, but we never had the opportunity to serve the lawsuit until today,” Alpert told the Miami Herald. “They hide behind the wall of their fortress and their security guards.”
Farhan Haq, the U.N. deputy spokesman, told the Herald he was standing behind Ban during the alleged encounter and that Ban did not take the papers.
“No one at the U.N. took the papers,” Haq wrote in an email.
Cholera victims have had a difficult time getting their case to move forward. The U.N. has invoked immunity and earlier this year, the U.S. State Department asked a New York court to grant the U.N. immunity from legal action brought by a Boston-based group representing five named plaintiffs.
Still, pressure has been mounting on Ban, who plans to visit Haiti next month, and the global body to respond more justly. On May 15, the National Capital Area Chapter of the United Nations Association USA, which is highly supportive of the organization, approved a resolution urging the UN to do better on the cholera issue. That same month, the High-Level Committee for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti met for the first time.
The committee was established by Haiti and Ban, who in December 2012 launched a $2.2 billion appeal to help Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic stamp out the waterborne disease.