The Two Faces of the UN

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar 

“All those Haitians who suffered such abuses have a right to see justice is done.”                                                                                 -UN High Comissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

I’d like to post the two articles related to UN involvement in Haiti that came out a couple weeks ago. Both published on February 21, both regarding ‘justice’ to Haitians.

In one case, the UN has absolved itself of legal responsibility to the families and victims of cholera, a disease that MINUSTAH itself (the UN stabilization force in Haiti) introduced. Read the claim here. In the other, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made a statement about, and in support of, bringing Jean Claude Duvalier to trial regarding crimes committed during his dictatorship. Read the statement here.

Subsequent articles (The Atlantic) have spoken out about the UN’s involvement in the introduction and spread of cholera. That an institution such as the UN would introduce such a disease and not hold itself accountable is inexcusable. Taken alone, this decision paints a stark picture of the UN’s presence in Haiti. However when paired with the second public statement, released on the same day, the picture becomes perhaps even more jarring. The UN has decided that not only will it not be held accountable for cholera victims, it will do so while attempting to be an international voice for human rights violations.

I agree with the Navi Pillay quote I began with. The trial of Duvalier is important for many reasons. However, the thin line drawn by the UN on human rights issues is becoming increasingly nefarious and self-serving. This line demarcates who can and who cannot commit human rights violations, and when those violations can occur. That line, even the existence of one, is frightening indeed.

Haitians stand outside the Tribunal de Paix building in the town of Grand Boucan in May 2012. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

Haitians stand outside the Tribunal de Paix building in the town of Grand Boucan in May 2012. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou