UN refusal to recognize role in Haiti cholera a 'debacle': expert

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations' refusal to recognize its legal responsiblity for Haiti's cholera epidemic is a debacle that must be turned into a success story, a UN expert said Tuesday.

The world body must set up a procedure to settle claims by the families of thousands of victims killed by cholera, said Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights.

Alston addressed a General Assembly committee as the United Nations was preparing to roll out an aid package of about $200 million to help the families of cholera victims.

The United Nations has admitted that it has a moral responsibility to help Haiti deal with the epidemic blamed on UN peacekeepers who were sent to the Caribbean country after the 2010 earthquake.

But the world body has refused to recognize that it is legally responsible and has ignored lawsuits filed by victims that have been rejected in US courts after the United Nations invoked diplomatic immunity.

Alston said the refusal to acknowledge responsibility was "morally unconscionable, legally indefensible, politically self-defeating and entirely unnecessary."

The United Nations "must turn the Haiti debacle into a success story," he said.

It must come up with a procedure to resolve the claims and urge member states to make generous contributions to the trust fund set up for Haiti's cholera victims, he said.

About 9,300 people have died of cholera and 800,000 have been affected since the outbreak in 2010. There are still 500 new cases of cholera reported every week.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has expressed regret but has not formally apologized for the disaster, is due to unveil the aid package for Haiti in the coming weeks.

"The organization's legal position does not prevent us from taking effective steps for addressing the issue of cholera in Haiti," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

He said the United Nations was acting with compassion and showing solidarity.