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Shifting demands in international institutional law: Securing the united nations' accountability for the haitian cholera outbreak

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The permanent legal framework governing international organisations vests organisations with a substantial degree of autonomy in determining their own liability with respect to private law claims. This level of autonomy is particularly pronounced in the case of the United Nations. Since 1946, the United Nations has enjoyed a standard of absolute immunity from the jurisdiction of domestic courts in order to protect the organisation's proper functioning. Thus, when individuals have private law claims against the organisation, the UN is obliged to settle claims privately, and individuals have no further recourse to courts. This regime creates a startling accountability gap, most recently highlighted by the UN's handling of 5000 private law claims which emerged in response to the allegedly negligent importation of cholera into Haiti by UN peacekeepers. To date, the UN has refused to settle these claims amicably. The UN's jurisdictional immunity now operates as a critical barrier to redress for the cholera claimants. This remedial deficit represents a structural gap which is indefensible in light of a shifting paradigm in international law, which increasingly favours human rights and respect for the rule of law over the autonomy of international organisations. This article examines both permanent and temporary solutions to closing this accountability gap, which could potentially alleviate the intractable position faced by the cholera claimants and similar victims in the future.




Taylor, K. N. (2015). Shifting demands in international institutional law: Securing the united nations’ accountability for the haitian cholera outbreak. Netherlands Yearbook of International Law, 45, 157–195.

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