Haiti cholera victims threaten to sue the UN

Cholera victims in Haiti The victims include the families of the 8000 people who have died and hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen sick

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Victims of Haiti's cholera epidemic have given the United Nations a 60-day deadline to start talks about billions of dollars worth of compensation or face legal action.

The UN is accused of negligently allowing peacekeeping soldiers to pollute Haiti's water with cholera.

A UN cholera expert agrees that this is "most likely" to be true.

The UN rejected an earlier call for compensation and continues to insist it is immune from legal proceedings.

Analysis

Every time I write about the cholera crisis in Haiti I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not having a horrible daydream - because the apparent facts are almost unbelievable.

The UN is an organisation committed to doing good; I've seen it strive to do so in many parts of the world.

But the available evidence does indicate that peacekeepers from Nepal inadvertently spread deadly cholera into the main waterway of one of the poorest, most vulnerable countries on earth.

One of the UN's own cholera experts, Danielle Lantagne, told me it was "most likely" the outbreak began in the Nepali camp.

The UN says it is immune from compensation claims.

But in private UN officials say the world body is facing a moral crisis over this case.

They may be about to face a very public legal crisis as well.

The cholera epidemic began in Haiti in 2010 near a camp for UN soldiers, where there were leaking sewage pipes. Some human waste was also dumped near a river outside the camp.

The camp housed UN soldiers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic. The UN's own cholera expert, Danielle Lantagne, has said that Haiti's outbreak is likely to have come from UN soldiers.

The victims include relatives of the 8,000 people who have died and hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen sick.

Lawyers for the victims say the UN is breaking international law.

They say they will open legal proceedings in New York with claims totalling many billions of dollars if the UN does not start talks within 60 days.

The lawyers say they will file claims for $100,000 (£64,000) for the families of those who have died and $50,000 (£32,000) for every one of the hundreds of thousands who have fallen sick.

The UN's relative silence on the matter so far may be because it simply does not know what to do in the face of what could be a series of catastrophic and deadly errors, says the BBC's International Development Correspondent Mark Doyle.

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