By Senabri Silvestre
SANTO DOMINGO, Dom. Rep.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized Tuesday for a cholera epidemic in Haiti and sexual abuse attributed to the organization’s peacekeepers in different countries.
"These two issues have tarnished the reputation of the United Nations and, much worse, traumatized many people ... already affected by armed conflict," Ban said during an address to the annual General Assembly meeting.
Just months before the end of his second term, Ban urged member states and the UN to strengthen zero tolerance policies against abuse crimes, stressing that those assigned to protect others "should never become predators".
Accusations of sexual abuses against UN soldiers on international missions are frequent. In 2015, the organization received 69 allegations against peacekeepers in 21 different countries, according to UN figures.
UN soldiers have also been blamed for the transmission of the cholera epidemic in Haiti where an estimated of 780,000 victims have been affected and 9,100 killed from an outbreak after a devastating earthquake in 2010 hit the Caribbean nation.
Ban said he feels "tremendous grief and sadness" for Haitians affected by the disease and reiterated that he would work to develop a support plan for Haiti later this year.
The UN last month accepted responsibility for the cholera outbreak and said it would prepare a "material" package of assistance and "support" for Haitians directly affected by epidemic.
“The United Nations has a moral responsibility for supporting Haiti in overcoming the epidemic and building sound water, sanitation and health systems”, Ban said in statement posted in August on the organization’s website.
Speaking through his spokesperson, Farhan Haq, the U.N chief expressed his intention at the time to increase support to reduce and ultimately end the transmission of the disease, typically contracted through contaminated food or water.
He also wants efforts to improve access to care and treatment. "But these efforts must include, as a central focus, the victims of the disease and their families," Haq added.
The comments by the UN chief came one day after a U.S. federal appeals court upheld the UN’s immunity from a damage claim filed in 2013 on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti.
The suit demanded the UN compensate victims of the epidemic it blamed on Nepali´s UN soldiers working in Haiti.