GENEVA, NEW YORK, PORT-AU-PRINCE – On the morning of Oct. 14, activists erected large portraits of cholera victims outside the United Nations (U.N.) offices in New York, Geneva and Port-au-Prince to commemorate the 9,000 lives lost from cholera brought to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers five years ago.
The portraits are a part of a new campaign, Face Justice, which calls on the U.N. to hear victims’ calls for justice. The campaign urges the U.N. to accept responsibility for causing the epidemic through faulty waste management, provide reparations and invest in water and sanitation to eliminate cholera.
“Every family in my community lost something because U.N. peacekeepers gave us cholera. I say to the U.N.: Give us justice,” said Joseph Dade Guiwil, a cholera survivor whose portrait will be featured at the U.N.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is among 17 organizations that support the Face Justice campaign in calling for justice for victims of cholera. MCC has worked in Haiti for more than 50 years and has witnessed cholera add another deadly burden to the lives of people struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake.
The photo exhibit is an Inside Out group action that features diverse faces of cholera’s toll, including 9-year old Pierre Louis Fedline who was orphaned by cholera, and Renette Viergélan who was herself hospitalized with cholera when her 10-month old baby contracted it and died.
Inside Out is a global participatory art project created by the artist JR to provide a platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.
“We are doing this to remind the U.N. that victims of cholera are not just numbers—they are real people. They could be my uncle, my father, my sister, my brother. My children,” said Jimy Mertune, an activist with the Haitian diaspora group Collective of Solidarity for Cholera Victims.
In Haiti, several thousand people are expected to gather for a demonstration outside the U.N. Logistics Base on Oct. 15. Face Justice is also sending postcards to U.N. member states, which feature photos of victims and relay their appeals for justice.
Kolton Nay, Mennonite Central Committee U.N. Office intern, from Dover, Ohio, hands a Victims of Cholera in Haiti postcard to a diplomat as he approaches the United Nations. (MCC Photo/Doug Hostetter)
Many others are calling on the U.N. to provide justice, including 154 Haitian-American diaspora leaders and groups that recently sent a letter to the U.N. and the U.S. government; and U.N. human rights officials who sent an official Allegation Letter to the Secretary-General expressing concern that the U.N.’s cholera response violates Haitians’ human rights.
“We hope these personal images and stories will cause more people at the U.N. to consider the human toll of cholera and to understand that the U.N.’s inadequate response ignores the dignity of each victim and the severity of their loss,” said Katharine Oswald, MCC Haiti policy analyst and advocacy coordinator, who worked with victims to document their stories.
Cholera cases continue to surge in Haiti five years since the disease was introduced. In the first half of 2015, the infection rate tripled over the same period last year. More than 746,000 people have fallen ill in the last five years. In 2013, Haiti had 46 percent of all reported cholera cases worldwide.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.facejustice.org.