In this Feb. 28, 2016 photo, a wheelchair bound man crosses a street flooded with dirty water in downtown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Cholera showed up in Haiti 10 months after a devastating earthquake in the south of the country, deepening the country�s misery at a time when it was ill-equipped to cope with the second crisis. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Two Black lawmakers are leading a bipartisan push for the U.S. State Department to immediately and unreservedly exercise its leadership” to ensure the United Nations takes responsibility for a devastating cholera epidemic caused by the improper disposal of sewage by UN peacekeepers.

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In this Feb. 28, 2016 photo, a man wades through a garbage filled water canal, pulling his bag after collecting empty bottles to sell in downtown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Scientists believe cholera was introduced to the country’s biggest river by inadequately treated sewage from a base of U.N. peacekeepers. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

According to the letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and signed by 158 members of the U.S. House of Representative, an internal UN memo revealed that since 2010, several bases of the UN’s Haiti mission, MINUSTAH have been releasing untreated waste into the Caribbean nation’s environment. The resulting cholera outbreak has killed between 10,000-100,000 people and sickened at least 800,000 in the last five years, making it the “worst cholera epidemic of modern times,” according to the letter.

However, the UN’s response has been anemic, worsening the epidemic, and it has refused to provide compensation or a fair hearing to victims, the lawmakers allege.

“Haiti’s cholera crisis is a darkening stain on the world’s conscience,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the dean of Congress, in a statement. “The U.S. government cannot watch this crisis unfold from the sidelines. We need to exercise our leadership to make sure that cholera is eliminated and that the UN provides due process and remedies to the victims. The ongoing failure to do so is a travesty for human rights and for the UN’s credibility.”

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In this Feb. 24, 2016 photo, Dr. Vanessa Rouzier examines a child suffering cholera symptoms, as his mother watches, inside Haiti’s first permanent cholera center, run by Gheskio Centers, in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Cholera, undetected in Haiti before October 2010, has sickened more than some 7 percent of the population, and killed more than 9,200. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Also leading the push for UN accountability was Black Republican Congresswoman Mia Love, of Utah.

“The U.S. is the largest financial supporter of the United Nations, and has an important voice at the UN.  It is critical that we use our influence to ensure the UN takes responsibility for this outbreak and works to protect the people of Haiti,” said Rep. Love.

The representatives’ letter joins a growing chorus of voices calling for the UN to repair the damage its personnel has caused on an already beleaguered country.

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In this Feb. 24, 2016 photo, people get treatment at Haiti’s first permanent cholera center, run by Gheskio Centers, in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While the number of cholera cases has been significantly reduced from its first wave and the mortality rate has been slashed to lower than 1 per cent from a high of 9 percent in December 2010, the fact that cholera is still killing Haitians more than five years on is galling to public health experts. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

“The UN must not just wash its hands of the human suffering and pain that it has caused. Setting up general health programs and sanitation campaigns is important but not enough. What is needed now is a proper investigation into the full extent of the damages caused, and a detailed plan to help those who have fallen victim to this disease and the relatives of those who have died,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International back in October.

The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti has filed a suit seeking to revoke the UN’s legal immunity in the Haiti cholera case.

The U.S. lawmakers said while they are not taking a stance on the litigation, they are calling on the State Department to make bolder strides in their diplomacy to bring a fair resolution to the ongoing health crisis.

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO