A human rights group said Tuesday it has filed claims with the United Nations seeking damages on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families.
The claims filed by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti argue that the U.N. and its peacekeeping force are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to adequately screen peacekeeping soldiers.
They say the infected soldiers caused the outbreak when untreated waste from a U.N. base was dumped into a tributary of Haiti's most important river.
"The sickness, death and ongoing harm from cholera suffered by Haiti's citizens are a product of the U.N.'s multiple failures," the complaint reads. "These failures constitute negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and deliberate indifference for the lives of Haitians."
Cholera has sickened nearly 500,000 people and killed more than 6,500 others since it surfaced in Haiti in October 2010, according to the Haitian Health Ministry. Evidence suggests that the disease was brought to Haiti by a U.N. battalion from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, and spread throughout the country after a local contractor failed to properly sanitize a U.N. base.
The petition was filed on Thursday with the Office of the Secretary General in New York and with the claims unit for the mission in Port-au-Prince, said Brian Concannon, an attorney who is the director of the Institute.
Concannon said he hoped the U.N. mission would set up a tribunal to evaluate the claims filed on behalf of the cholera victims. He also said he hoped the U.N. force would fund and create a lifesaving program that would provide sanitation, potable water and medical treatment. He also said he wants a public apology.
"We're obviously hoping that the U.N. will step up and do the right thing," he said by telephone.
If that doesn't happen, the group plans to file the claims in a Haitian court, he said.
U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg said she was aware that a group was planning to file the complaint, but couldn't confirm that a claim presented to her was the same one officially received by the United Nations.
"In any case, the petition, when it is received, should be transferred to the legal office and headquarters," Van Den Wildenberg said.
The U.N. force, known by its French acronym Minustah, arrived in 2004 following the ouster of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.