In recent months, the advocacy for justice for cholera victims has resulted in a major breakthrough. In August 2016, the UN acknowledged its own role in the outbreak for the first time, stating to the New York Times that “over the past year the UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.” The UN also announced that “the Secretary-General is actively working to develop a package that would provide material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera,” and that the UN “intends to intensify its support to reduce and ultimately end the transmission of cholera, improve access to care and treatment, and address the longer-term issues of water, sanitation and health systems in Haiti.” In his opening remarks at the General Assembly on September 20, 2016, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that he feels “tremendous regret and sorrow at the profound suffering of Haitians affected by cholera…[and that] the time has come for a new approach to ease the plight and better their lives. This is our firm and enduring moral responsibility.”
While the details of the plan are currently being elaborated, the UN has announced that it is mobilizing $400 million for the new response. The response is being divided into two tracks: 1) Intensifying support for cholera control and response, and more effectively addressing the medium and longer term issues of water, sanitation and health systems; and 2) providing material assistance to those most affected by cholera. It is unclear whether “material assistance” will translate into individual compensation, community-level projects, or some combination thereof.
These developments come on the heels of a scathing report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, which criticized the UN’s approach as “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, and politically self-defeating.” The report identified “powerful reasons why the Secretary-General should urgently adopt a new approach, one that respects the human rights of the victims, while protecting United Nations’ immunity, honoring its commitment to the rule of law, and upholding the integrity of the peacekeeping system.” In particular, the report recommended four principal steps to be taken by the UN Secretariat: 1) an apology and an acceptance of responsibility in the name of the Secretary-General; 2) an acknowledgement that the claims submitted by victims are private law claims and therefore require an appropriate remedy; 3) adequate compensation for victims; and 4) consultation with stakeholders in a transparent manner. The Special Rapporteur also recommended that this approach should be adopted by the UN in future cases, and urged the Haitian government and other UN member states to support a robust UN response. The report was presented to the General Assembly on October 25, 2016.
While the progress is exciting, it continues to be critical for advocates to hold the UN to its promises and make sure that their words are followed with action. Several things still need to happen for justice to become a reality:
 Jonathan Katz, UN Admits Responsibility for Haiti Cholera, N.Y. Times, Aug. 17, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/18/world/americas/united-nations-haiti-cholera.html
 UN Spokesperson, Noting Court Decision Upholding UN Immunity in Haiti Cholera Case, Secretary-General Urgest Member States to Boost Support for Overcoming Epidemic, Aug. 19, 2016, http://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sgsm17991.doc.htm
 Secretary-General Statement to the General Assembly, supra note 2.
 Id. at ¶3
 Id. At ¶84
Below are the faith-based organizations who signed the FACE|JUSTICE interfaith letter, with the full letter text appearing below:
American Jewish World Service | Arizona Jews for Justice | B’nai Torah Congregation – Boca Raton, FL | Catholic Alliance for the Common Good | Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness | Church World Service | Conference of Major Superiors of Men | Congreation Bet Haverim | Congregation Beit Simchat Torah | Congregation Beth Shalom | The Episcopal Church | Evangelical Lutheran Church in America | Faith and Money Network | Haitian Evangelical Church of Jesus Christ of Jersey City | Haiti Partners | Heartline Ministries | JCC Manhattan | KareDrew Haitian Children's Foundation, Inc. | Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society | Khmer Health Advocates Inc. | Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship | Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns | Maryknoll Sisters Eastern & Western Regions, USA | Maryknoll Sisters, Hendersonville, NC | Mennonite Central Committee U.S. | Mercy Focus on Haiti | N a Sonje Foundation | Mission Sociale des Eglises Haitiennes | National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd | National Center of the Catholic Haitian Apostolate in the US | National Council of Churches | National Missionary Baptist Convention of America | NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice | New Generation Church of the Nazarene | Notre Dame D'Haiti Catholic Church (Miami, FL) | Open Table Mennonite Fellowship | Orphelinat Cogop | Pax Christi International | Pax Christi USA | Poverty Initiative and Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary | Presbyterian Church (USA) | Progressive National Baptist Society | The Salvation Army | Scarsdale Synagogue | True Alliance Center, Inc. | Saint Peter's University Social Justice Program | Temple B'nai Abraham | Temple Emanuel of Tempe | The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute | Unitarian Universalist Service Committee | Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice | The United Methodist Church - General Board of Church and Society | Uri L'Tzedek | Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative | YATOM: The Jewish Foster & Adoption Network | World Renew | World Vision
Religious and Faith-Based Sign-on Letter in Support of U.S. Leadership
on Haitian Cholera Before the UN
Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry,
We, the undersigned faith-based organizations, write urging you to exercise leadership at the United Nations (UN) to ensure concrete steps are taken to eliminate the cholera epidemic introduced to Haiti in 2010 by waste from a UN peacekeeper camp and provide assistance to meet the needs of those most affected. The UN’s recent admission acknowledging its role has made a renewed response possible and it is our sincere hope you will act quickly through the Department of State to support UN action to save lives and bring positive change in Haiti.
The signers of this letter include diverse faith-based groups and institutions concerned about the cholera crisis in Haiti. Many of us have worked in cholera-affected communities, assisted Haitian cholera victims through medical treatment and water projects, and advocated with and for them before the UN. Our call for a just UN response joins the voices of 158 United States congressmen and women, 154 Haitian diaspora organizations, UN special rapporteurs, thousands of U.S. citizens, and the hundreds of thousands of Haitians affected by cholera.
The loss of life and suffering caused by cholera in Haiti compels action. Official estimates suggest the epidemic has killed 10,000 persons and sickened over 800,000 persons. Recent scientific research indicates these numbers could be dramatically higher. When victims share about the personal and communal tolls the disease has taken, they speak of lost children and parents, destroyed livelihoods, and a belief that those in power do not care about their suffering. The UN’s long refusal to accept responsibility and its lackluster response have perpetuated these beliefs.
Recognizing the UN’s important global role in promoting and protecting human rights, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston stated that its actions in response to the cholera outbreak have “[upheld] a double standard according to which the UN insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.” With Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon pledging a new cholera action plan within the next few months, the UN’s ability to recover its credibility as a moral voice will depend on its next steps.
The U.S. should play a vital role in supporting a robust response that includes the UN’s formal apology to the victims and the fulfillment of its overdue promise to eliminate cholera through renewed treatment efforts and substantial investment in clean water and sanitation infrastructure. The U.S. should also provide funding for these initiatives and take a leadership role in urging other member states to do the same. Lastly, the U.S. can help ensure the UN keeps its commitments and that its new plan of action is created and implemented in consultation with victims, Haitian civil society, and the Haitian government.
The faith traditions of those undersigned compel us to stand in solidarity with members of the human family who are victims of injustice, and we do so now with those affected by cholera. Each passing day without a meaningful UN response is another chapter in an unfolding tragedy and we respectfully urge the Department of State to treat the issue with the urgency it requires.
Your leadership in this work is more important than ever,