In December 2016, the United Nations apologised for the cholera epidemic in Haiti that killed at least 9,000 and has sickened nearly a million people since 2010. The UN now recognises that Nepalese peacekeepers working for the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brought cholera to Haiti in 2010.

The apology came after many years of silence from the UN, and was coupled with a promise to prevent future deaths and suffering and to remedy those that had occurred.  But since then, the UN has done nothing to make good on its promises, in particular to consult with and remedy the victims.

Giving victims a voice

Research from Dr Nicolas Lemay-Hébert, of  the International Development Department,  gives a voice to the victims and their families. Along with Professor Rosa Freedman, he has worked on a practical solution to end the current stalemate around the reparations or compensations to the victims of cholera. Now that this step has been achieved, the focus is on compensation for victims.

Dr Lemay-Hébert travelled to Mirebalais in Haiti to gather testimonies from victims, their families and lawyers to find out what remedies they were seeking and why consultations with victims are so urgently needed. 

What the victims said

The research highlighted a need for individual rather than collective remedies to support the victims. Individuals simply wanted to be given the money they spent to take family members to hospital, to pay for medicines, or to bury the dead. They acknowledged that whilst the collective remedies the UN proposed such as building health centres and schools might address the causes of why cholera spread so quickly, they didn’t trust that these plans would come into fruition. They also expressed concern that collective remedies would benefit those who did not suffer from cholera.

Next steps

The victims clearly expressed the willingness to meet with and talk to UN officials, but also expressed a strong preference for individual reparations. Waiting indefinitely to organise consultations with the victims is not a solution. The UN needs to organise these meetings, and hear the victims’ voices as soon as possible. In this context, it is imperative that the UN enters in a direct dialogue with the victims.

Dr. Lemay-Hébert and Professor Freedman are working on a book project (The Fight for Human Rights in Haiti), with the aim of bridging the gap between the positions of the UN and the representatives of the victims of cholera in Haiti.