Leaked Report Highlights UN Recklessness and Cover up on Haiti Cholera
Aleaked report shows that senior UN leadership covered up evidence of serious, uncorrected sanitation failures on its peacekeeping bases in Haiti, and continued to deny responsibility for the cholera epidemic it brought to Haiti long after an internal investigation documented a systemic practice of discharging untreated toilet and kitchen waste directly into Haiti’s environment.
“This new report makes clear that the reckless sanitation that caused the cholera outbreak was part of a systemic sanitation failure,” said Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which advocates for remedies for victims of the UN cholera, including through a U.S. lawsuit. “And the sanitation failure is part of a systemic refusal of the UN to hold itself or its staff accountable to the organization’s principles, the vulnerable populations that host peacekeeping missions or the taxpayers that fund them.”
The internal review commissioned a month after the October 2010 cholera outbreak found that over 10% of the bases for MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were discharging untreated toilet waste “directly into the environment,” while over 70% were discharging “grey water” - effluent from kitchens and showers, which can also contain disease. Numerous scientific studies have established that cholera was introduced by waste discharged from the Mirebalais MINUSTAH base into Haiti’s largest river system. The epidemic has officially killed over 9,200 people and sickened 800,000, but a recent scientific study estimated that the actual death toll could be 40,000 or more.
At the time of the cholera outbreak, MINUSTAH was headed by Edmond Mulet. Despite the review’s documentation of system-wide sewage dumping, Mr. Mulet repeatedly denied any link between peacekeeping troops and the cholera outbreak, accusing Haitians who pointed the finger at the UN of “wasting time and costing lives.” As recently as 2014, Mr. Mulet told an interviewer that the peacekeepers did not bring cholera to Haiti, that “all those precautions had been taken and had been taken all along” to prevent cholera, and that all the peacekeepers at the base had been tested for cholera. Even after the leaked report became public, Farhan Haq, the Deputy Spokesman for SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki Moon, responding to reporters’ questions on April 5, maintained that “regarding wastewater management, the [Mirebalais] camp was compliant” in November 2010. Television footage from October 27, 2010 shows peacekeepers “working furiously to contain what looks like a sewage spill” leaking from the base’s toilets to the nearby river. The UN’s own panel of independent experts subsequently concluded that the peacekeepers were the most likely source of the cholera.
There is no evidence that anyone within the UN has faced any consequences for the sanitation failures that caused the cholera crisis or the public misinformation that exacerbated the crisis and tarnished the UN’s reputation in Haiti or abroad. The organization steadfastly refuses any institutional accountability for the harm caused by the cholera. Although the organization claims to have made improvements in its sanitation practices, internal reviews of other peacekeeping missions, as recently as 2015, have documented similar systemic discharge of human waste into the local environments there.
Mr. Mulet was promoted to the position of Chef de Cabinet of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, one of the most senior roles in the UN Secretariat, in November 2015.
A UN soldier watches a man washing in a Haitian refugee camp. Sewage dispoal was so poor at UN military bases that it threatened to ‘damage the reputation of the mission’.
Photograph: Andres Martinez Casares/EPA