By, Colum Lynch - June 1, 2017
The Trump administration will rebuff a recent U.N. appeal to contribute millions of dollars to a cash-short trust fund established last year to provide relief to victims of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 9,000 Haitians and sickened more than 800,000 more, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.
The move will be the latest blow to U.N. efforts to raise $400 million dollars from member states to provide assistance to the Haitian victims of cholera. The disease is widely believed to have been introduced into Haiti more than six years ago by infected U.N. Nepalese peacekeepers. Since the fund was set up in October, the U.N. has collected only a pittance, about $2.7 million, from Britain, Chile, France, India, Liechtenstein, South Korea and Sri Lanka.
The Trump administration has not contributed a penny to the fund, and it has no intention of doing so in the future, according to U.S. and U.N. officials. The administration has argued that it is not responsible for the epidemic, which it blames on U.N. incompetence and the Nepalese peacekeepers. Further, the United States already contributes more assistance to Haiti — more than $4.2 billion since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake — than any other country.
But legal experts and human rights advocates say the United States — which led international efforts to send a U.N. mission to Haiti in the first place — is shirking its share of responsibility for the acts of blue helmets.
“The U.S. government has not just washed its own hands of all responsibility, but has been the prime mover in insisting that the U.N. must not accept the legal responsibility which is clearly has,” said Philip Alston, a professor of international law at New York University who also serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Alston, who conducted a lengthy inquiry into the international response to the Haiti crisis, maintains that U.S. urged the United Nations not to accept legal culpability for the cholera epidemic, fearing its could impose billions of dollars in costs on the United States and other U.N. member states.
“By pushing the U.N. from the beginning to deny responsibility [for the outbreak] in spite of overwhelming evidence, the U.S. government has been the key player in denying justice to the victims and in giving the U.N. complete and impunity for clear wrongdoing,” Alston said.
The cholera epidemic could stand as the dark legacy of a U.N. stability effort in Haiti that is scheduled to wrap up in October, when U.N. peacekeepers will leave the troubled island nation.
Haiti had not recorded a single outbreak of cholera in modern times, if ever, when Haitians living near a tributary of the Artibonite river near the village of Mirebalais suddenly began falling sick in October 2010. The disease was traced to a leaky sewage system in the U.N.’s encampment at Mirebalais, which housed a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers who had recently deployed from Kathmandu. Exacerbated by the hemisphere’s worst sanitation system — only 58 percent of Haitians have access to safe water, and only 28 percent have access to toilets — the disease spread rapidly.