MIAMI — Haitian community advocates in South Florida say the United Nations' lack of response to a lawsuit seeking compensation for cholera victims in Haiti is part of a pattern of evading responsibility for the outbreak.
The Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in federal court in Manhattan. The brief supports a motion asking the court to affirm that the U.N. had been properly served with the lawsuit filed in October.
"We've tried for four months to serve the papers on the U.N., sending process servers to the United Nations headquarters. When they get there, they're denied access," said Beatrice Lindstrom, an attorney for the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which filed the lawsuit along with immigration attorney Ira Kurzban's firm and the human rights group Bureau des Avocats Internationaux.
The U.N. has told the plaintiffs to mail or fax the legal documents, but it has not acknowledged receiving the paperwork, she said.
"The U.N. actually hasn't said anything," Lindstrom said Monday.
The lawsuit blames the U.N. for the cholera outbreak that has killed thousands in Haiti. It says the U.N. spread the disease when it contaminated Haiti's principal river with cholera-infected human waste beginning in October 2010. The five Haitians and Haitian-Americans listed as plaintiffs all had family members with cholera infections, some of whom died.
Scientific studies have shown that cholera was likely introduced in Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.
Associate spokesman Farhan Haq said the U.N. had no comment on the lawsuit. When it was filed in October, Haq defended the U.N.'s response to the epidemic, saying the U.N. was working with the Haitian government to help the people affected and improve the country's infrastructure.
According to data from the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization cited in the brief filed Friday, cholera has sickened nearly 700,000 Haitians and killed more than 8,400 as of Dec. 23.
The two Florida-based advocacy groups represent Haitian immigrants and Haitian-Americans, including some whose relatives were affected by the outbreak in their Caribbean homeland.
The U.N.'s failure to acknowledge the lawsuit "is yet another manifestation of its shirking of responsibility for the cholera outbreak, one which this court should declare an abuse of its rules relating to service of process," the groups wrote. They ask the court to grant the plaintiffs' motion and demonstrate the urgency of the case.
"We feel like the U.N. has been really slow to respond to the epidemic and their lack of response continues to make the people of Haiti suffer," said Byrnes Guillaume, president of the Haitian Lawyers Association.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for personal injury, wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of use of property and natural resources and breach of contract. It also seeks money to bring clean water and improved sanitation to Haiti.
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