UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized Thursday for the U.N. not doing enough to contain the spread of a cholera outbreak in Haiti, but he stopped short of apologizing for bringing the disease to the Caribbean nation.
Ban made his remarks in a speech announcing the U.N.'s new approach to cholera in Haiti, which seeks to provide aid to communities affected by the disease that has afflicted some 800,000 Haitians and killed over 9,000.
"On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly we apologize to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role," Ban said, speaking first in Creole, then repeating himself in French and English.
"This has cast a shadow upon the relationship between the United Nations and the people of Haiti. It is a blemish on the reputation of U.N. peacekeeping and the organization world-wide," Ban added.
Researchers say cholera was introduced to Haiti by Nepalese troops who were part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
For years the U.N. had denied or been silent on longstanding allegations that it was responsible for the outbreak, while responding to lawsuits in U.S. courts by claiming diplomatic immunity. In August, a U.S. appeals court upheld the United Nations' immunity from a lawsuit filed on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims who blame the U.N. for the epidemic.
After the ruling, Ban said he deeply regretted the suffering that cholera has caused and the U.N. had a moral responsibility to the victims.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Ban's apology did not go further because a panel that studied the outbreak attributed it to a number of factors.
"We now recognize that we had a role in this but to go to the extent of taking full responsibility for all is a step that would not be possible for us to take," Eliasson told reporters before Ban's speech.
Haiti's Ambassador Jean Wesley Cazeau praised Ban's new approach, which seeks to raise $400 million from U.N. member states to provide aid to the afflicted communities and to help eradicate the disease, but he squarely laid the blame for the epidemic on the peacekeepers.
"This approach, I'm happy to highlight represents a radical change of attitude away from the morally unjustifiable approach used until now by the U.N. regarding its responsibility in cases where it created or contributed to a serious health crisis by finally recognizing it has a fatal for in the outbreak and the terrible suffering by the Haitian people by admitting it has a moral responsibility," Cazeau said. "The U.N. showed it can admit to making mistakes."
Sen. Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the Senate's Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, praised Ban's apology in a statement.
"The people of Haiti have long deserved more than just acknowledgment for the pain and sacrifice they have suffered in great part due to UN negligence. The UN must now put its money where its mouth is and provide compensation to the Haitian people suffering from the devastation caused by the cholera epidemic," Markey said.