Haitians sue U.N. over cholera epidemic

More than 5,000 victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic have filed a petition with the United Nations demanding millions of dollars in compensation for their suffering, blaming the epidemic on Nepalese peacekeepers.
The epidemic, which has killed 6,700 people and sickened 485,000, has been linked to peacekeepers from Nepal, according to a report released in May by a U.N.-appointed panel of experts, CNN reports.
The victims filed their petitions with the U.N. Stabilization Mission's claims unit and at the United Nations in New York, according to one of their lawyers, Brian Concannon. Haitians who were sickened are demanding $50,000 each and the loved ones of those who were killed are seeking $100,000, Concannon said.
The victims also want acknowledgement from the U.S. that it was responsible for the epidemic after fecal matter from a U.N. camp where the Nepalese were based was dumped improperly into the Artibonite River after the January 2010 earthquake.
"This contamination initiated an explosive cholera outbreak downstream in the Artibonite River Delta and eventually throughout Haiti," the May report said, CNN reports. "This explosive spread was due to several factors, including the widespread use of river water for washing, bathing, drinking, and recreation."
There is little precedence for compensation demands and lawsuits against peacekeepers in Haiti. The U.N. signed a status of forces agreement with the government of Haiti in 2004, providing immunity for soldiers serving under its banner. If the stabilization mission does nothing, the Haitian cholera victims may not have other legal avenues.
Nathan Burney, a New York attorney, said that the agreement also mandated the peacekeepers cooperate to their fullest extent to fight communicable diseases, according to CNN. If the U.N. knew it was responsible for the outbreak and was stonewalling, that may violate the agreement.