UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP/File)
Updated 17 January 2019
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UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

  • WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails
  • Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself

LONDON: The head of the World Health Organization has ordered an internal investigation into allegations the UN health agency is rife with racism, sexism and corruption, after a series of anonymous emails with the explosive charges were sent to top managers last year.
Three emails addressed to WHO directors — and obtained exclusively by the Associated Press — complained about “systematic racial discrimination” against African staffers and alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including claims that some of the money intended to fight Ebola in Congo was misspent.
Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails. He confirmed that directive to the AP on Thursday.
Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself and have called for the probe to be made public.
The first email, which was sent last April, claimed there was “systematic racial discrimination against Africans at WHO” and that African staffers were being “abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to” by their Geneva-based colleagues.
Two further emails addressed to WHO directors complained that senior officials were “attempting to stifle” investigations into such problems and also alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including allegedly misspent Ebola funds.
The last email, sent in December, labeled the behavior of a senior doctor helping to lead the response against Ebola as “unacceptable, unprofessional and racist,” citing a November incident at a meeting where the doctor reportedly “humiliated, disgraced and belittled” a subordinate from the Middle East.
Tedros — a former health minister of Ethiopia and WHO’s first African director-general — said investigators looking into the charges “have all my support” and that he would provide more resources if necessary.
“To those that are giving us feedback, thank you,” he told a meeting of WHO’s country representatives in Nairobi last month. “We will do everything to correct (it) if there are problems.”
But Tedros refuted claims that WHO’s hiring policies are skewed, arguing that his top management team was more geographically diverse and gender-balanced than any other UN organization after adopting measures to be more inclusive.
“There is change already happening,” he said during the December staff meeting, according to an audio recording provided to the AP.
WHO’s in-house investigation into misconduct comes after other UN agencies have been rocked by harassment complaints.
At UNAIDS, chief Michel Sidibe agreed to step down after an independent report concluded in December that his “defective leadership” had created a toxic working environment, with staffers asserting there was rampant sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power.
The author of the anonymous WHO emails also charged there were “crooked recruitment and selection” processes that were “tantamount to fraud, corruption and abuse of authority.”
In the latest anonymous message, the author singled out the supposedly flawed hiring process of a senior director in WHO’s emergencies department, suggesting that might have led to mistakes being made by incompetent officials involved in efforts to stop Ebola in Congo.
Some staffers feared that funds donated to stem the spread of the deadly virus “have not been used judiciously,” the email said, warning such blunders could undermine WHO’s credibility.
“A plane was hired to transport three vehicles from the warehouse in Dubai at the cost of $1 million. Why would WHO ship vehicles from Dubai? We would appreciate the rationale when jeeps in DRC (Congo) can be purchased at $80,000 per vehicle,” the email said, claiming that “corruption stories about logisticians and procurement in WHO’s (Geneva emergencies department) are legendary.”
David Webb, director of WHO’s office of internal oversight, told staffers that Tedros had asked him “to conduct an appropriate investigation” into the issues raised in the emails. Webb said he and his team would scrutinize those accusations, in addition to the approximately 150 other claims that have been reported to his office this year.
“My team is trying their best to go to DRC (Congo), to go to where the allegations are with an effort to find the facts,” he said.
The revelations about the alleged wrongdoing were likely to prompt discussions next week at WHO’s executive board meeting at its Geneva headquarters.
Webb said the investigation would be conducted independently even though it would be done by WHO staffers.
Critics outside the organization felt that was not enough.
“That’s the same office that botched the initial investigation at UNAIDS,” said Edward Flaherty, a lawyer who represents Martina Brostrom, the UNAIDS whistleblower whose sexual harassment allegations ultimately triggered Sidibe’s resignation. “Having an internal investigation at WHO is as good as doing nothing.”
Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who previously worked at WHO and now serves on several of its advisory groups, wasn’t surprised by the emails’ claims of racism, sexism and corruption.
“After what I’ve seen at WHO, I have no doubt that everything in those emails is true,” he said, although he had no evidence to prove the specific claims.
Tomori said he and his African colleagues had often been subjected to “slights that turned to slurs, embarrassing humiliations and rudeness that escalated to abuse” from fellow WHO staffers.
He predicted that without an independent investigation, more complaints would continue to spill out.
“People have known about these problems for a long time,” he said. “But nobody wants to talk because they’re afraid.”


Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

Updated 51 min 31 sec ago
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Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

  • India has beefed up security forces in Kashmir after last week's suicide attack in Pulwama
  • The attack, claimed by Kashmiri separatists, killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops

NEW DELHI: Separatist leaders in Kashmir have called for a shutdown on Sunday in protest against the “illegal detention” and “arbitrary arrest” of some of their colleagues and the deployment of an additional 12,000 troops in Kashmir valley.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called the arrest of the senior separatist leader Yasin Malik and the crackdown on 200 Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and leadership, including its chief Ameer Abdul Hamid Fayaz,  “dictatorial” and “arbitrary.”
It said that “nocturnal raids across the valley look to be a part of the continued policy of suppression of pro self-determination leadership and narrative.”
“The last 30 years have shown that jailing and intimidating activists and leaders will not deter them from their path, nor will it stop people from demanding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through self-determination,” said a statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
The separatist leaders also condemned the pressure tactics being used by the government against some of the local media.
Amid the crackdown on the valley-based separatist leaders New Delhi has also started deploying 12,000 additional troops in the valley.
“We are keeping two things in mind — to control the situation emerging out of the arrests of the separatist leaders and to be ready to hold elections in the valley parallel to the national elections,” a senior officials in Srinagar told Arab News.
After last week’s Pulwama suicide attack that claimed more than 40 lives of paramilitary personnel in South Kashmir, there has been a considerable build-up of troops in the valley. 
The crackdown on the separatists coincides with the crucial hearing on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court on Monday. The article grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been challenged by a section of the Hindu right wing in the Supreme Court.
The nocturnal arrests of the activists and separatist leaders have come under criticism from the valley-based mainstream political parties.
“In the past 24 hours Hurriyat leaders and workers of the Jamaat organization have been arrested. Failure to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mahbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
She questioned “under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally in the valley Sajad Lone also questioned the wisdom of the crackdown.
“Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” said Lone in a tweet.
However, Dr. Hina Bhat of the BJP justified the arrest of the Hurriyat separatist leaders.
“If you want to bring peace in Kashmir it is important to remove all the ingredients which are causing disturbance in the state, be it separatist or Jamiat,” said Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader.
“Why you think we should go and talk to militants who are killing their own people. We are not killing these separatist leaders, we are just removing them from the scene.”
“We have tried and gave enough chances for the dialogue process with Pakistan. What happens is that when we trust Pakistan we are backstabbed and we cannot trust Pakistan for a dialogue process,” he added.
She told Arab News that “the government is taking appropriate steps to bring back peace and life in the state.”
“The militants in the state are brainwashed individuals and they pick up guns because of their personal reasons not to fight for the cause of Kashmir. Youth are being misguided and brainwashed by the separatist leaders for their political agenda. They work as the agents of Pakistan,” asserted Bhat.
Kashmir-based analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid said that “Delhi is practicing a cynical policy at its best.”
“In the last 24 hours, the fog has cleared and it is becoming apparent that the BJP is spinning Pulwama in the interests of electoral politics. Their war-cry was to isolate Pakistan, so it has not succeeded because international support for this is non-existent. Yet it has successfully stirred the BJP base,” added Wahid.
He told Arab News that “Delhi continues its policy of denial of dispute and at the same time making the Kashmiri eminently more insecure in India. It is disastrous.”