Taking 'Major Steps Towards Justice,' UN Apologizes for Haiti Cholera Outbreak

Marking what one advocacy group hailed as “major steps towards justice,” the United Nations on Thursday apologized for its role in the deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti.

Since the outbreak began in 2010—firmly linked to reckless sewage practices by a Nepalese contingent of U.N. peacekeepers—data from the World Health Organization shows that cholera has killed over 9,000 people and sickened over 780,000. Cholera victims have spent years seeking legal redress, but the U.N. has claimed immunity.

Speaking to the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “The United Nations deeply regrets the loss of life and suffering caused by the cholera outbreak in Haiti.”

“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologize to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role.”

Still, the New York Times notes, his statement “was delicately worded to avoid the impression that the United Nations was taking full responsibility for cholera in Haiti. That could imply legal culpability.”

Just months ago, U.N. special rapporteur and New York University law professor Philip Alston said in a confidential report to Ban that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.”

Ban on Thursday also issued a report (pdf) called A New Approach to Cholera in Haiti, which outlines a two-pronged strategy that will ostensibly “address the short- and longer-term issues of water, sanitation, and health systems” to boost “access to care and treatment”; and the “development of a package of material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera, centered on the victims and their families and communities.”

“Secretary-General Ban’s apology itself is a victory,” said Dan Beeton, who directs communications for the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s International Program. Still, he noted, “There’s a great deal that must be done to move forward and make this right.”