UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations on Thursday formally apologized to Haiti for its role in the country’s cholera epidemic after refusing to admit its responsibility up until this year.
“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,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in Creole, English and French, said at the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York.
Ban, who will end his tenure as UN chief at the end of this month, went on to say that “Eliminating cholera from Haiti, and living up to our moral responsibility to those who have been most directly affected, will require the full commitment of the international community and, crucially, the resources necessary.”
The cholera epidemic in the impoverished Caribbean nation has killed more than 9,000 people since 2010 and, experts say, it originated when human waste was dumped into a local river by UN peacekeepers from Nepal.
For years, the international body has resisted admitting its role in the epidemic, while victims’ groups have tried to secure compensation from the organization in the courts.
The UN began to change its stance this summer, after a U.S. appeals court definitively confirmed its immunity from prosecution and thus rejected the petitions of the victims.
On Thursday, despite his apology, Ban did not openly say that it was UN personnel who brought cholera to Haiti.
As Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson told reporters, Ban did not go further in his apology because a panel studying the epidemic concluded that the epidemic occurred because of a number of factors.
“We now recognize that we had a role in this but to go to the extent of taking full responsibility ... is a step that would not be possible for us to take,” Eliasson said.
Ban, in any case, made clear that the UN has the “moral responsibility” to help those affected by the disease and to work to eliminate it from Haiti.
To do that, he announced the launching of a new two-track plan to, in the first place, treat cholera cases and improve sanitation in Haiti to eradicate the disease and, in the second, to compensate the victims.
In all, the UN wants to invest $400 million over two years in those efforts, a figure that had been previously announced.
The compensation will be made in the form of aid to the affected communities and not as direct cash payments to the families of the dead.
Although the UN is still open to cash payments to the victims’ families, Eliasson on Thursday said that right now its current plan is more feasible, adding that the Haitians themselves believe that direct payments to victims’ families could create unspecified problems within the country.