Haitian cholera victims call for UN accountability

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Haitian activists and victims of cholera rally in front of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in Port-au-Prince, on October 15, 2015

Haitian activists and victims of cholera rally in front of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in Port-au-Prince, on October 15, 2015 (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)

Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Hundreds of activists and victims of Haiti's cholera epidemic staged a demonstration Thursday in Port-au-Prince to demand an apology and compensation from the United Nations, whose peacekeepers are accused of accidentally introducing the disease five years ago.

The protesters, gathered in front of the main base of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), angrily condemned the United Nation's silence regarding its responsibility in the epidemic.

"If the United Nations considered us human beings, there would have been an apology," community health worker Jean Emmanuel Larose said.

In October 2010, Larose lived through an outbreak of cholera in the town of Mirebalais.

"We were not informed that it was cholera, which is why many of us are dead. It was discovered that it was the MINUSTAH who had not respected us. Their infected Nepalese peacekeepers did their business in our rivers, knowing very well that it was the water we used every day," Larose said.

In a statement released Tuesday, Amnesty International reiterated that "scientific reports have identified UN workers from Nepal as vectors of the disease in Haiti."

More than 8,850 Haitians, many of them poor, have died of cholera since the epidemic began in October 2010, months after an earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people on the island nation.

According to statistics from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 746,000 people have been infected.

"It is a violation of human rights," said activist Rachele Fondchaine.

"Some parents are dead and their children are now the responsibility of their uncles or aunts. These cases must be supported and families must be compensated for not only the people who have died but for the ways in which cholera has plunged them into abject poverty."

The United Nations regularly expresses its commitment to eradicating cholera in Haiti, including through funding sanitation programs in rural areas, but it has so far refused to accept responsibility for the introduction of the disease.

"The UN cannot wash their hands of the suffering and the pain it caused," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas Director.

"Developing general health programs and sanitation campaigns is important, but they are not sufficient."

Families of cholera victims have filed suits against the United Nations in New York, but US courts have so far refused to hear those cases, citing the UN's immunity.