The rationale for throwing out the case was seemingly blunt: The U.N. claimed total immunity from prosecution, liability and the law. It based this notion on a U.N. convention, by way of a status-of-forces agreement, or SOFA, signed by Haiti's interim prime minister (a former U.N. official) in 2004.
Such agreements make it possible for foreign militaries to work without fear of harassment by local courts or police. They're common -- the United States has one with nearly half the world's countries.
But they're supposed to be a two-way street. In one crucial section, for instance, MINUSTAH agreed to "cooperate with respect to sanitary services and ... in matters concerning health, particularly in respect to the control of communicable diseases."
Another crucial section comes a few pages later. Since the SOFA meant that Haitian courts could not prosecute U.N. personnel, it laid out a procedure for resolving disputes: the formation of a "standing claims commission." This, too, is standard, though no one is quite certain what such a commission would look like -- the U.N. has never actually formed one.
It's not clear exactly how the U.N. justified not forming a commission to adjudicate the claim, but spokesman Martin Nesirky gave a clue in his press conference. He told reporters that "consideration ... would necessarily involve the review of political and policy measures."
Nesirky appears, quite vaguely, to be invoking an exemption in the SOFA, which says a commission does not have to be formed if a claim arises from "operational necessity." Is the U.N. arguing that dumping infected sewage into a major river was an operational necessity? The U.N. press office rebuffed my request for clarification.
The U.N.'s claim of immunity is ironic in Haiti, where, after all, a lack of immunity was the problem: Haitians had no resistance to the imported disease because they'd never been exposed to it before.
That nightmare continues. Though cases have tapered off, there are indications the disease is once again on the rise. Haiti's health ministry reported a spike in cases nationwide in December 2012 and January 2013, with active outbreaks continuing in three of the country's departments.
It doesn't have to be this way. Cholera, which spreads through contamination of food or water, can be prevented with good sanitation. It's even easier to treat: Medicine is usually not required, just the speedy replacement of lost fluids.
The U.N. estimates it would cost $2.27 billion to provide the necessary infrastructure in Haiti over the next 10 years. The victims' lawyers have asked for up to $100,000 in additional compensation for each of the families they represent. In all, the total cost would probably be shy of $3 billion -- a bargain compared with the economic, social, and personal damage the epidemic has brought.
To put that figure in perspective, MINUSTAH's budget for 2013 alone -- again, a quarter of which is provided by the United States -- is $644 million.
Reduce the size of the nine-year-old peacekeeping mission, which after all is patrolling a country that's not at war, and you could start paying that debt down quickly.