So what happens now? The U.N. could decide to pay on its own, perhaps without an admission of responsibility. But given its actions over the last two years—as officials who have publicly lied about the facts of the case have been promoted while the organization ponies up a scant 1 percent of the cost of its adopted initiative—that seems unlikely, absent outside pressure.
The families’ lawyers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—a longtime U.N. foe—have vowed to take the fight to the courts, hoping the denial of accountability will win the sympathy of a judge in Europe, Haiti, or the United States. But they know it’s a long shot. The world body will likely claim immunity there, too, and many judges will be inclined to agree. The U.N.’s interpretation of its own immunity statutes and agreements is hard to overrule.
But there’s one other document worth considering in the meantime: “To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small. To establish conditions under which justice and respect for … international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
Those are the words of the preamble to the United Nations charter. It’s not too late for the U.N. in Haiti to live up to them.In following the UN's disgraceful performance in Haiti, I think about the victims—but I also think about the UN personnel involved in this. After all, the Secretary General has put them in an impossible position.
The countries providing 6,809 troops for MINUSTAH are actually making money by hiring out their soldiers. In 2007, the UN was paying governments about US$1,028 monthly per soldier, plus various supplements. The governments in turn pay their own troops at their usual pay rates.
The soldiers aren't stupid; they know they're being used as mercenaries. They're in a position to see the situation of the people they're supposed to be protecting. And they know that some of their colleagues brought cholera to the island, earning all MINUSTAH troops a lot of resentment.
If the troops must feel cynical, imagine how the healthcare people in the Pan American Health Organization must feel. PAHO is the western-hemisphere branch of WHO, which of course is a UN agency. Its whole purpose is to prevent or mitigate disease and to improve global health. WHO's employees have to keep their mouths shut about Haiti and their boss's responsibility for at least 648,000 cholera cases and over 8,000 deaths.
That is a problem in medical ethics—if not outright malpractice—that few or none of those workers have resolved. Perhaps some of them have quit, or wangled transfers out of the country. The rest are still there, or in New York or Geneva, maintaining a loyal silence.
It must be awful for them. But when they lie awake at night agonizing about it, at least the bed doesn't have a hole in the middle with a bucket underneath.