The Power of free speech? Not on cholera and not at the United Nations


colera_article-420x0Cholera never got a look in during the speech that Samantha Power, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, delivered to the Security Council on Monday.

It was a striking omission especially since Ms Power’s remarks touched on many of the other subjects mentioned last month by Gustavo Gallon, UN independent expert on human rights in Haiti in his annual assessment of the state of the poorest country in the Americas. Prolonged pre-trial detention, for instance, which Mr Gallon estimated at a staggering 80%. On Monday, Ms Power gently suggested there was a need to further minimize the number of such prisoners. “It would be a key indicator of the government’s commitment to strengthening due process in the legal and corrections systems,” she said.

Quite so.

But what of cholera, a South Asian strain that medical evidence indicates was brought to Haiti by Nepalese UN peacekeepers? And what of the UN’s refusal to admit any responsibility here or even to institute simple ordinary pre-entry health checks for peacekeepers to prevent similar, if unwitting, problems elsewhere?

The logic of this is inescapable especially for someone as famously plainspeaking and free-thinking as Ms Power. Long years ago, Orwell said that if liberty were to mean anything at all, it was the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. That includes those who commit the UN to an immune response to the suffering inflicted on  a vulnerable people.