How to Get Away with Cholera: The UN, Haiti, and International Law

Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 14(1), pp. 70-86, 2016

44 Pages Posted: 11 May 2016 Last revised: 12 May 2016

See all articles by Mara Pillinger

Mara Pillinger

George Washington University, Department of Political Science, Students

Ian Hurd

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science

Michael Barnett

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA)

Date Written: May 10, 2016

Abstract

The legalization of world politics is often celebrated for reducing impunity for those who contribute to humanitarian crises. This may sometimes be true but the opposite is also true. In 2010, United Nations peacekeepers unwittingly brought cholera to Haiti and sparked an epidemic. Nearly a million people were made sick and 8,500 died. Legal activists have sought to hold the UN responsible for the harms it caused and win compensation for the cholera victims. However, these efforts have been stymied by the structures of public international law — particularly UN immunity — which effectively insulate the organization from accountability. In short, the UN is empowered, and the cholera victims disempowered, by legalization. The Haiti case powerfully illustrates the dangers of legalism, which have been largely overlooked in discussions of international law, and suggests that law alone is an inadequate arbiter of responsibility in international politics.

Keywords: United Nations, Peacekeeping, Haiti, Cholera, Global Public Health, Immunity, International Law

Suggested Citation

Pillinger, Mara and Hurd, Ian and Barnett, Michael, How to Get Away with Cholera: The UN, Haiti, and International Law (May 10, 2016). Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 14(1), pp. 70-86, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2778134

Mara Pillinger

George Washington University, Department of Political Science, Students ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

Ian Hurd (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place (Scott Hall)
Evanston, IL 60201
United States

Michael Barnett

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) ( email )

2201 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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