Voice

Suing the United Nations for cholera in Haiti

Writing at Opinio Juris, law professor Kristen Boon analyzes a lawsuit filed against the United Nations for its alleged role in bringing cholera to Haiti:

A year ago, a Boston based group called the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) filed a trail blazing class action against the UN on behalf of over 5,000 plaintiffs.  The petition asks for compensation for the victims ($50,000 for injured and $100,000 for deceased), better water sanitation, and a public acknowledgement of responsibility.  IJDH alleges that the cholera outbreak is a violation of Haitian law and certain international obligations, such as the right to life.

The central factual question is, of course, whether UN peacekeepers did indeed spread cholera to the population. (The evidence to this point appears strong, although not conclusive.)  But, as Boon points out, the lawsuit also raises broader questions about when and how international organizations can be held accountable for negligence.

The Multilateralist

The OSCE's star turn in American politics

The conservative blogosphere is alive with stories about Texas refusing to accept the presence of election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). Oddly, many of these commentators insist on conflating the OSCE with the United Nations, and so the dispatch of OSCE observers to watch U.S. elections has been neatly melded into the right's general UN-skepticism. 

I haven't seen the OSCE drawn into the American political fray this directly since the mid-1990s. Then the issue was the Bosnian elections, which the OSCE was organizing and supervising. Many of us working in Bosnia at the time were convinced that the organization was being used to help advance Bill Clinton's reelection bid by showing tangible evidence of progress in Bosnia. Clinton had promised that American troops would be out of Bosnia quickly, and the premature elections seemed to be a way of punching the American ticket and heading for the exits. For a while, wags renamed the  OSCE the "Organization to Secure Clinton's Election."