PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A United Nations official on Tuesday made a rare case for compensation for the thousands of Haitians who have died of a cholera outbreak in the Caribbean nation.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay didn’t say who she thought should pay, but activists have demanded the world body provide compensation to the victims of a disease believed brought in by U.N. peacekeepers.
“I have used my voice both inside the United Nations and outside to call for the right — for an investigation by the United Nations, by the country concerned, and I still stand by the call that victims of — of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation,” Pillay said at an awards ceremony for human rights activists in Geneva.
The U.N. maintains it has legal immunity from such compensation claims.
Pillay’s remarks, streamed live on the Internet, were a rare admission by a U.N. official about the need to provide compensation following a complaint filed by the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and the Haiti-based law firm run by Haitian attorney Mario Joseph, one of the finalists at the Geneva ceremony.
The complaint came in the aftermath of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that surfaced in 2010 and health officials say has killed more than 8,000 people. Scientific studies have shown that cholera was likely introduced to the country by U.N. troops from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.
Pillay said she raised the compensation issue almost a year ago when she was asked a question at a lecture at Oxford University
Asked about Pillay’s comments, U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq, said it is not the “United Nations’ practice to discuss in public claims filed against the organization.”
Nicole Phillips, lawyer for the Boston-based IJDH, said that Pillay’s “public support for the cholera victims’ claims could be a game changer in their claims against the U.N.”