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District Court in New York to hear arguments on UN claim to immunity from justice over cholera in Haiti

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By the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Oct. 7, 2014

Judge J. Paul Oetken has granted Plaintiffs' request for an oral argument in Georges v. United Nations, 1:13-CV-7146, the ongoing case against the United Nations (UN), the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and former head of MINUSTAH Edmond Mulet, for recklessly introducing cholera to Haiti in 2010. Victims of the resulting epidemic filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 2013.

Judge Oetken has now ordered that counsel for the parties and amici curiae appear to present arguments on the Plaintiffs' motion regarding service of process. The argument will address jurisdictional questions, including UN immunity. It will take place on October 23, 2014, and is open to media and the public.

What: Oral argument on the Plaintiffs' motion regarding service of process in Georges v. United Nations.

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014, at 10:00 am.

Where: Courtroom 706, Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Foley Square, New York, NY 10007.  Seating is on a first come, first served basis.

Attorneys for the Plaintiffs will be available for interviews immediately following the oral argument. Interviews will be available in English, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Korean, and Swedish.

Background: The hearing follows several months of briefing on whether the Defendants have immunity from suit and service of process. Plaintiffs served summons on the Defendants earlier in the year, but the Defendants have not responded or appeared in the lawsuit. In March 2014, the U.S. Government filed a Statement of Interest asserting that the case should be dismissed because the Defendants have immunity from service and suit in domestic courts. Plaintiffs responded with an opposition brief, and 25 prominent international law and human rights experts-several with current or former affiliations at the UN-signed amicus briefs in support of the Plaintiffs' position. Plaintiffs argue that the UN does not enjoy immunity in this case because its failure to establish an alternative process for adjudicating victims' claims violates its treaty obligations and denies victims their fundamental right to a remedy.

The hearing, which is scheduled to take place on the day prior to UN Day, marks the first court proceeding in the case. Speaking about the significance of the hearing, Brian Concannon, Jr. Esq., Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), stated, "The Court's decision to schedule a hearing shows that it is taking a serious look at the UN's international law obligation to provide victims justice, as a precondition for asserting immunity."

All prior court briefings, including the initial complaint, are available here. In the last four years, over 8,500 people have died and more than 705,000 have been infected by cholera. 

Press Contact: Shannon Jonsson, Legal Fellow, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, shannon@ijdh.org, +1-617-652-0876 Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, kem@ijdh.org, +1-617-652-0876 

CBC Radio One’s The Current has broadcast a 20-minutes story on the cholera legal case against the United Nations. It aired on its broadcast of Friday, October 17, 2014. You can listen to it online here:  U.S. courts must decide if United Nations is responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti.

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