The day before United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon was set to make the case that ridding Haiti of the scourge of cholera should be a humanitarian funding priority, human rights attorney Mario Joseph wondered whether the outgoing world leader would finally issue a long-sought public apology.
For six years, Ban had refused to either apologize or acknowledge the role of his blue-helmeted peacekeepers in introducing the deadly waterborne disease to Haiti during relief efforts after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 300,000.
“The U.N. secretary general has always hidden behind lies in order to avoid admitting that they were the ones responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti,” said Joseph, who heads the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a partner of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims.
On Thursday, Joseph finally got the acknowledgment he wanted. Ban, a South Korean diplomat wrapping up his decade-long run as U.N. chief, issued an apology. It’s an important step, many in the Haitian and diplomatic communities hope, to getting U.N. member countries to fund a $400 million plan to eradicate cholera from Haiti, and compensate its thousands of victims.
“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: We apologize to the Haitian people,” Ban said in English after asking “the Haitian people’s pardon” in Creole. “We are profoundly sorry for our role.”
In the live broadcast from the U.N. headquarters in New York, during which he detailed the plan, Ban acknowledged that the powerful world body “simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti.”
UNITED NATIONS — After six years and 10,000 deaths, the United Nations issued a carefully worded public apology on Thursday for its role in the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti and the widespread suffering it has caused since then.
The mea culpa, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered before the General Assembly, avoided any mention of who brought cholera to Haiti, even though the disease was not present in the country until United Nations peacekeepers arrived from Nepal, where an outbreak was underway.
The peacekeepers lived on a base that often leaked waste into a river, and the first cholera cases in the country appeared in Haitians who lived nearby. Numerous scientists have long argued that the base was the source of the outbreak, but for years United Nations officials refused to accept responsibility.
Even though Mr. Ban’s office has acknowledged that the United Nations had played a role in the outbreak, his apology on Thursday was limited to how the world body responded to the outbreak, not how it started.
“We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti,” Mr. Ban said on Thursday. “We are profoundly sorry about our role.”
Apologies are rare for the United Nations. In 1999, Mr. Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, expressed “deep remorse” for the organization’s failure to protect civilians from the genocide in Rwanda five years earlier.
Mr. Ban’s apology — belated in the view of his critics — is part of his push for redress in Haiti before the end of his 10-year tenure on Dec. 31. Yet the people of Haiti have seen few tangible benefits so far.