Bill Clinton acknowledges UN’s role in deadly Haitian cholera outbreak

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, has acknowledged the role U.N. peacekeepers played in a deadly cholera outbreak that has killed thousands in Haiti, according to ABC News. The U.N. has repeatedly denied its role in the outbreak despite the ever-mounting scientific evidence that its troops were the culprits.

“I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera in Haiti, the U.N. peacekeeper, or [U.N.] soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” Clinton said, adding that “it was the proximate cause of cholera. That is, he was carrying the cholera strain. It came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti, into the bodies of Haitians.”

Clinton also said that Haiti’s dismal sanitation conditions were the real culprit, not the U.N., “Unless we know that he knew or that they knew, the people that sent him, that he was carrying that virus and therefore that he could cause the amount of death and misery and sickness, I think it’s better to focus on fixing it,” he said.

Leading researchers from Harvard Medical School told ABC News they felt confident that the cholera strain came from Nepal and was carried to Haiti by Nepalese soldiers who served as U.N. peacekeepers in January 2010. Allegedly, the peacekeepers failed to keep sanitary conditions on their base.

Another study, published in the medical journal The Lancet last July, found that all the evidence pointed to the Nepalese U.N. troops. The study found: “There was an exact correlation in time and places between the arrival of a Nepalese battalion from an area experiencing a cholera outbreak and the appearance of the first cases in Meille a few days after… The remoteness of Meille in central Haiti and the absence of report of other incomers make it unlikely that a cholera strain might have been brought there another way.”

According to John Mekalanos, chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School, cholera strains from South Asia are far more virulent, and more capable of causing lethal epidemics. “These strains are nasty. So far there has been no secondary outbreak. But Haiti now represents a foothold for a particularly dangerous variety of this deadly disease,” he said.

The U.N. continues to deny that there is enough evidence to suggest that U.N. peacekeepers were to blame for the outbreak. Over the summer, Anthony Banbury, the assistant secretary general for field support, said the U.N. commissioned four studies to determine the origin of the outbreak, but that it remained unclear if the peacekeepers were at fault.

“We don’t know if it was the U.N. troops or not,” Banbury said. “That’s the bottom line.” He added that the U.N. is “working very hard … to combat the spread of the disease and bring assistance to the people. And that’s what’s important now.”

The U.N. has faced hostility from Haitians who believe peacekeeping troops have abused local residents without consequence.  The international organization now faces legal action from victims’ relatives who have petitioned the U.N. for restitution.

Further complicating issues, the Institute for Justice and Democracy, an advocacy group, has asked the U.N. to establish an independent claims commission to review a 37-page complaint submitted by the group, and to award a financial judgment to compensate victims’ suffering and economic losses. They are also seeking a greater investment by the U.N. in efforts to eradicate the deadly disease, according to ABC News.

The complaint states: “The sickness, death, and ongoing harm from cholera suffered by Haiti’s citizens are a product of the UN’s multiple failures… These failures constitute negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and deliberate indifference for the lives of Haitians.”

However, some observers are optimistic that Clinton’s admission is a step in the right direction. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said, “President Clinton’s acknowledgement, as a U.N. official, should bring us one step closer to the U.N. taking responsibility for what it has done, and fixing it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been over 470,000 reported cases of cholera and over 6,631 deaths during the Haitian epidemic, making it the worst cholera outbreak in recent history.

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