Reputation and Accountability

Another Look at the United Nations’ Response to the Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

In: International Organizations Law Review
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  • 1 University of Michigan Law Shool

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The cholera outbreak in Haiti offers a useful case study of reputation as a disciplinarian of international organizations. On the one hand, UN officials and member states alike have emphasized the need to repair the organization’s damaged reputation. On the other hand, the UN secretariat declined to take certain steps that might have averted—or at least mitigated—that reputational damage in the first place. This contribution argues that the United Nations’ response to cholera in Haiti showcases some important limitations and complications of reputation as a disciplinarian. Reputation will function as a less effective disciplinarian of organizations in the context of uncertainty about the facts or about what the law requires. Notably, international organizations have some capacity to perpetuate factual uncertainty through their control over key sources of information. Reputation will also serve as a less effective disciplinarian when organizations have multiple audiences that are not evaluating the organization against the same standards.