11 plays

Cholera in Haiti

Bill Clinton

The saga of the U.N. and cholera keeps unfolding. Today’s episode: Bill Clinton.

In response to a question from blogger Ansel Herz, the former president and U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti presented as a point of fact that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal introduced the infection. This is pretty bold for someone with a high-flying U.N. title, and rightfully getting attention on the Haiti Twitter Webs.

But what really grabs me in this audio (provided by Herz on Sharebeast) is how Clinton plays the question, raised somewhat obliquely by US permanent representative Susan Rice on Feb. 28, about whether anyone will be held accountable.

Clinton’s short answer is “No.” His longer answer is: “No, but maybe next time”: 

"I can’t recall ever until this cholera outbreak hit people even asking: Did these people come from a place where they have a lot of cholera or malaria or you name it, and are we sending them to a place where they don’t have that, and therefore, almost by accident, we could start an epidemic …?

And I have to tell you — at least I had never thought about it before. And insofar as I would have any influence over continuing United Nations operations it’s one question that I think that will always be asked from now on. I feel terrible about what happened here. I was moved by the response … but I don’t think this was a deliberate callous disregard for the lives of the people of Haiti. I think they had never thought about this before. And I think now, all over the world, every time there is a deployment of people from one part of the world to another, people will be asking this question.”

This echoes the U.N. panel report of May 2011, which gave a searing indictment of the peacekeepers, then avoided singling them out in a critical line of the conclusion, yet then recommended that the U.N. change its rules so what they did never happens again.

It’s basically a safe, nuanced (Clintonesque?) way of handling the problem. Making sure such an event doesn’t happen elsewhere, or again in Haiti, is certainly part of the issue. But would it even be possible to prevent such future disasters if no one is held accountable for this one? One thing I’m sure of: Clinton’s comments may re-open this conversation, but they won’t appease the lawyers who have drafted a lawsuit against the U.N. on behalf of cholera victims, nor the people who just want MINUSTAH to go.

(audio:; photo: jmk)