The op-ed “UN’s cold, but correct, call on Haiti” (Juliette Kayyem, Feb. 28) misstates the basis for the UN’s dismissal of claims filed by cholera victims in Haiti. While it correctly notes that immunity is an important protection for the United Nations, it assumes that immunity precludes justice for people harmed by reckless actions by the UN.
Section 29 of the UN Immunities Convention, cited in both the op-ed and the UN’s rejection letter, states that the UN “shall make provisions for appropriate modes of settlement” of claims against it. This means that the UN commits to providing justice through internal mechanisms. In rejecting the cholera claims, the UN did not invoke diplomatic immunity, but rather refused to uphold its commitment to provide alternative justice.
The UN claims that this case is an exception because it requires examination of UN policies. How can the wrongful acts alleged — for example, pumping untreated sewage into Haiti’s largest river system for days, probably weeks — be a matter of UN policy? Defining this as policy creates an exception so broad that Section 29 becomes meaningless. In doing so, the UN is putting itself above its own laws and the very principles that it was created to promote.
The Boston-based institute represents 5,000 victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti in their claims against the United Nations.