"[The failure to respond] undermines the reputation of the United Nations, calls into question the ethical framework within which its peace-keeping forces operate, and challenges the credibility of the Organization as an entity that respects human rights.”
-- Five UN Human Rights Experts in a letter to the Secretary-General
The cholera crisis in Haiti has become a flashpoint for rising concerns about UN peacekeeping accountability. The ongoing failure of the UN to adequately address the cholera epidemic and provide support for the victims has spurred widespread criticism across international media, among policy makers, and the general public. It has eroded trust in the UN system, and directly undermined MINUSTAH’s credibility and ability to carry out its mandate; that distrust now carries over to the new UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, MINUJUSTH.
MINUSTAH was deployed to Haiti in 2004 with a mandate of promoting rule of law and human rights. Yet to many Haitians, it has become synonymous with evasion of responsibility.
The former UN spokesperson in Haiti, Silvie Van den Wildenberg, noted that she can’t mention the mission without someone asking her about cholera or the cases of sexual abuse. “It is the opposite of why we are here, to defend the highest values and ideals and this is killing our credibility worldwide.”
The UN’s promises to address the cholera crisis through a “new approach” have the potential to reverse this legacy by fulfilling the UN’s duty to eliminate cholera and help the victims to heal. Yet, as the New York Times observed in a March 2017 editorial, the lack of follow-through to date provides “today’s lesson in evading moral responsibility.” At a time when faith in multilateralism and peacekeeping is receding, the UN must follow through on its promises; failure to do so signals to the world that its commitments to accountability are hollow. It is time for the UN to deliver on its promises to Haiti and right the wrong that it caused.