The United Nations is saying for the first time that it was involved in the introduction of cholera to Haiti and needs to do "much more" to end the suffering of those affected, estimated at more than 800,000 people.
Researchers say there is ample evidence that cholera was introduced to Haiti's biggest river in October 2010 by inadequately treated sewage from a U.N. peacekeeping base. The United Nations has never accepted responsibility, and has answered lawsuits on behalf of victims in U.S. courts by claiming diplomatic immunity.
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq's statement referring to the U.N.'s "own involvement," which was sent to The Associated Press on Thursday, came a step closer to an admission of at least some responsibility and was welcomed by lawyers for the victims.
"This is a major victory for the thousands of Haitians who have been marching for justice, writing to the U.N. and bringing the U.N. to court," said Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights attorney whose law firm has led a high-profile claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims who blame the U.N. for introducing the disease.
In a decision issued late Thursday, a U.S. federal appeals panel in New York upheld immunity for the UN and affirmed a lower court's 2015 judgment dismissing that case. Cholera victims and their lawyers have 90 days to decide if they will seek an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Haq said that the United Nations has been considering a series of options, and "a significantly new set of U.N. actions" will be presented publicly within the next two months.
He told reporters later that a U.N.-appointed panel already looked into the U.N.'s involvement. It found that a local contractor failed to properly sanitize the waste at the U.N. base.
"We've been trying to see exactly what we can do about our own particular role as this has been going on" and how "to bring this outbreak to a close," he said.
Haq wouldn't say whether reparations were under consideration.