’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
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Updated 07 February 2023

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct

’Loophole’ excuses WHO officials accused of misconduct
  • The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year

LONDON: A confidential UN report into alleged missteps by senior World Health Organization staffers in the way they handled a sexual misconduct case during an Ebola outbreak in Congo found their response didn’t violate the agency’s policies because of what some officials described as a “loophole” in how the WHO defines victims of such behavior.
The report, which was submitted to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month and wasn’t released publicly, was obtained by The Associated Press. The WHO did not respond to requests for comment.
The UN investigation comes after a 2021 review by a panel appointed by Tedros found that three WHO managers fumbled a sexual misconduct case first reported by the AP earlier that year, involving a UN health agency doctor signing a contract to buy land for a young woman he reportedly impregnated.
Last week, Tedros said UN investigators concluded the “managerial misconduct” charges were unsubstantiated and the three staffers returned to work after being on administrative leave. The WHO chief said the agency would seek advice from experts on how to handle the inconsistencies between the two reports.
The investigators said Tedros was informed of the sexual misconduct allegations in 2019 and had been warned of worrying gaps in the WHO’s misconduct policies the previous year.
“If these issues were brought to Tedros’ attention and no action was taken, (WHO) member states must demand accountability,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a global health expert at Columbia University.
Tedros has previously said he became aware of sexual misconduct complaints in Congo only after media reports in September 2020 and learned of the specific case reported by the AP when it was published. He said anyone connected to sexual misconduct faced consequences including dismissal. To date, no senior WHO staffers linked to the abuse and exploitation have been fired.
In May 2021, an AP investigation revealed senior WHO management was told of sexual exploitation during the agency’s efforts to stop Ebola in eastern Congo from 2018-2020 but did little to stop it.
Among the cases WHO management were warned about was the allegation that Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, an infection control specialist sent to Beni, had impregnated a young woman. Ngandu met the woman at a restaurant one evening shortly after he arrived — and following mandatory WHO training on the prevention of sexual misconduct.
According to the UN report, the two had sex later that evening and Ngandu gave her some money the next morning. The relationship soured and the woman and her aunt later went to the WHO office in Beni to complain that Ngandu had impregnated her. AP obtained a notarized agreement Ngandu and the woman, in which he agreed to cover her health care costs and buy her land.
The deal, also signed by two WHO staffers, was meant to protect the WHO’s reputation, Ngandu said.
“After the allegations were made to WHO (headquarters), a decision was made not to investigate the complaint on the basis that it did not violate WHO’s (sexual exploitation and abuse) policy framework,” the UN report said.
The review explained that the decision was made by officials from the UN health agency’s legal, ethics and other departments and was due to the fact that the woman wasn’t a “beneficiary” of WHO assistance, meaning she didn’t receive any emergency or humanitarian aid from the agency, and thus, didn’t qualify as a victim under WHO policy.
WHO staffers interviewed by UN investigators said this might be considered a “loophole which had the potential to cause complaints to fall through the cracks.”
“Ngandu’s conduct did not violate any WHO (sexual exploitation and abuse) standards of conduct,” the report said, describing his agreement to pay off the woman as a “private financial settlement.”
UN investigators noted there were problems in the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies, describing those as “a collective responsibility.” In February 2018, several staffers sent a memorandum to Tedros warning of the policies’ shortcomings.
Experts slammed WHO’s defense, saying the agency should uphold the highest standards in handling sexual exploitation since it coordinates global responses to acute crises like COVID-19 and monkeypox.
“Escaping accountability based on weasel words and technical language, like not being a ‘beneficiary’ of WHO assistance is unacceptable,” said Larry Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University. “That the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services excused this behavior based on this legal technicality shows the UN and WHO are not taking sexual abuse seriously.”
After the reports of sexual misconduct in Congo arose, the WHO created a new office to prevent such behavior, headed by Dr. Gaya Gamhewage. In her interview with UN investigators, Gamhewage said that prior to starting her new job, she had no knowledge of the WHO’s sexual misconduct policies and had not even read them.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse were not familiar terms to her,” the report said.
The UN investigation comes weeks after the AP published another story detailing sexual misconduct at the WHO, involving a Fijian doctor with a history of sexual assault allegations within the agency, who was preparing to run in an election for the WHO’s top director in the Western Pacific.
“These repeated instances of sexual assault, and arguably worse, its cover-up, are grossly intolerable,” said Columbia University’s Redlener. “It’s possible this Ngandu case didn’t technically break WHO’s policy, but there is policy and then there is morality and ethics,” he said. “There’s something deeply uncomfortable about what happened here.”
During the Ebola epidemic, Tedros traveled to Congo 14 times to personally oversee the WHO’s response.
“At a minimum, Tedros should promise and deliver a major overhaul on policies and accountability,” Redlener said. “There might even be an expectation that he failed in his responsibilities and should therefore resign.”


Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members
Updated 10 sec ago

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

Afghan Taliban raid in Kabul kills 3 Daesh members

ISLAMABAD: An overnight raid by Taliban forces in Afghanistan’s capital killed three members of the extremist Daesh group, a Taliban spokesman said on Wednesday.
The regional affiliate of the Daesh group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — has been the key rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. The militant group has increased its attacks, targeting both Taliban patrols and members of Afghanistan’s Shiite minority.
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban government spokesman, the operation on Tuesday targeted an Daesh hideout in Kabul and killed three prominent members of the militant group who were plotting attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts at sundown on Wednesday.
“The [Daesh] members used the hideout to carry out attacks in Kabul city and planned to target religious places and civilians during the upcoming month of Ramadan,” Mujahid said. The Taliban swept across Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, seizing power as US and NATO forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
The international community has not recognized the Taliban government, wary of the harsh measures they have imposed since their takeover — including restricting rights and freedoms, especially for of women and minorities.

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes
Updated 14 min 54 sec ago

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes

Philippine president Marcos Jr. defends US military presence, which China opposes
  • US forces would be allowed to stay in western Palawan province, which faces the South China Sea
  • Philippine president: Moves were meant to boost the country’s coastal defense

MANILA: President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday defended his decision to allow a larger United States military presence in the country as vital to territorial defense despite China’s fierce opposition and warning that it would “drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife.”
The Marcos administration announced in early February that it would allow rotating batches of American forces to indefinitely stay in four more Philippine military camps in addition to five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 defense pact of the longtime treaty allies.
Marcos said without elaborating that the four new sites would be announced soon and they include areas in the northern Philippines. That location has infuriated Chinese officials because it would provide US forces a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in any future confrontation over Taiwan. America’s moves dovetail with Philippine efforts to shore up its territorial defense amid a long-seething dispute mainly with China in the South China Sea.
Aside from the northern and southern Philippines, Marcos told a news conference without elaborating that, under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, US forces would also be allowed to stay in western Palawan province, which faces the South China Sea. He underscored that the moves were meant to boost the country’s coastal defense and added in reply to a question that opposition to the US military presence by some local Filipino officials had been overcome.
“We explained to them why it was important that we have that and why it will actually be good for their province,” Marcos said, adding most of those who had objections had come around “to support the idea of an EDCA site in their province.”
Governor Manuel Mamba of northern Cagayan province, where American forces may be allowed to stay with their weapons in up to two Philippine military camps, said Marcos has the prerogative to make the decision but he remained opposed to it. He had earlier expressed fears that allowing the Americans to base in Cagayan, which lies across a sea border from Southern China, Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, could turn his province into a key target of the Chinese military if a conflict involving the US military breaks out over Taiwan.
“It is the president’s call, not mine,” Mamba said. “But I maintain my stand against any foreign forces stationed in my province. Still, I am against EDCA sites in my province.”
US and Philippine officials have said that American-funded construction of barracks, warehouses and other structures to be used by US forces and contractors would generate much-needed local jobs and boost the economy. The US presence would help the Philippines respond to natural disasters, enhance combat-readiness and help deter Chinese aggression in Asia.
China, however, has repeatedly accused Washington of taking steps to contain it militarily and of driving a wedge between Beijing its Asian neighbors like the Philippines.
“Creating economic opportunities and jobs through military cooperation is tantamount to quenching thirst with poison and gouging flesh to heal wounds,” the Chinese embassy in Manila said in a recent statement. “Such cooperation will seriously endanger regional peace and stability and drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day.”
US forces have intensified and broadened joint training, focusing on combat readiness and disaster response with Filipino troops on the nation’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.
Next month, the allied forces are to hold one of their largest combat exercises, called Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — which will include live-fire drills. One planned maneuver involves US and Philippine forces firing rockets to sink a mock enemy ship in waters facing the South China Sea, the Philippine military said.
If the ship-sinking exercise proceeds as planned, it would likely draw an angry reaction from China, which claims the strategic waterway virtually in its entirety and has turned seven disputed reefs into missile-guided island bases to defend its territorial claims.

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan
Updated 44 min 52 sec ago

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan

Muslims in Indonesia gear up for first day of Ramadan
  • Every region in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago seems to have its own way to mark the start of Ramadan

JAKARTA: Millions of Muslims in Indonesia are gearing up to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on Thursday, with traditions and ceremonies across the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country amid soaring food prices.
From colorful torchlight street parades to cleaning relatives’ graves and sharing meals with family and friends, every region in the vast Southeast Asian archipelago seems to have its own way to mark the start of Ramadan, highlighting the nation’s diverse cultural heritage.
The country’s religious affairs minister on Wednesday evening will try to sight the crescent moon to determine the first day of the holy month. If the moon is not visible, as expected, the first day of Ramadan will be a day later. Most Indonesians – Muslims comprise nearly 90 percent of the country’s 277 million people – are expected to follow the government’s official date.
Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah, which counts more than 60 million members, said that according to its astronomical calculations Ramadan will begin on Thursday.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse from sunrise until sunset. Even a tiny sip of water or a puff of smoke is enough to invalidate the fast. At night, family and friends gather and feast in a festive atmosphere.
The fasting is aimed at bringing the faithful closer to God and reminding them of the suffering of the poor. Muslims are expected to strictly observe daily prayers and engage in heightened religious contemplation. They are also urged to refrain from gossip, fighting or cursing during the holy month.
Although Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, its Ramadan traditions have been influenced by other religions. Nyadran is a Javanese ritual heavily influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism that involves visiting ancestors’ gravesites to pay respect.
Each year, thousands of villagers who live on the slopes of Mount Merapi in Central Java visit cemeteries to welcome Ramadan. In the ritual, people clean and decorate gravesites and make prayers and offerings. They bring various foods in bamboo containers that they eat together after praying.
In other regions on the main island of Java, including in the capital, Jakarta, Muslims also mark the holy month by cleaning their relatives’ graves, scattering flower petals on them and praying for the deceased.
After evening prayers, many boys and girls across Jakarta parade through the streets of the densely populated neighborhoods to welcome the holy month. They carry torches and play Islamic songs accompanied by the beat of the rebana, the Arabic handheld percussion instrument.
People in Indonesia’s deeply conservative Aceh province celebrate the beginning of Ramadan with Meugang festivities by slaughtering animals such as oxen or buffalo, as well as smaller animals like chicken and ducks. The meat is then cooked and shared with family, friends and even the poor and orphans in a communal feast that aims to bring the community together.
Hundreds of residents in Tangerang, a city just outside Jakarta, flock to the Cisadane River to bathe in a tradition that involves washing one’s hair with rice straw shampoo to welcome the holy fasting month with a symbolic spiritual cleansing.
Islam follows a lunar calendar, so Ramadan begins around a week and a half earlier each year. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the joyous Eid Al-Fitr holiday, when children often receive new clothes and gifts.
Indonesia’s Trade Ministry has said prices of imported staple foods including wheat, sugar, beef and soybeans have increased sharply this year as a result of rising global commodity prices and supply chain disruptions, particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But many people say the rise in prices not only impacts imported foods but also local commodities like rice, eggs, chili, palm oil and onions. Gas and electricity prices have also gone up. Many blame the government for this.
Some Muslims worry how they will cope financially during Ramadan this year.
“Prices are going up every week. How come the government cannot help with this? Anything to do with cooking is rising,” said Yulia Ningsih, a mother of two who lives in Jakarta. “I worry that rising food and energy costs will impact Ramadan celebrations.”

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father
Updated 22 March 2023

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father

British son harmed himself over false sex claims made against his father
  • Father reveals in a TV interview how he walked in on his son slicing his arms

DUBAI: A British son reportedly self-harmed over false sex abuse allegations that a 22-year-old woman made against his father.

Eleanor Williams was earlier sentenced to eight and a half years’ jail when a British court convicted her of perverting justice after she falsely accused businessman Mohammed Ramzan, from Cumbria, of leading an Asian grooming gang.

Ramzan and other men were victims of false allegations and rape and abuse claims made against them by the 22-year-old via a Facebook post. The social media post included graphic images of injuries she alleged that she had sustained.

On Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported that Ramzan and Jordan Trengove, another innocent man who was a victim of the woman’s allegations, had been pushed to the brink of suicide.

In an interview with 5 News, Ramzan, a father of four, shared the agonies that his family has been through due to the false allegations. He said that he almost took his own life and revealed how he walked in on his son self-harming one evening.

Media reports cited Ramzan telling TV journalist Dan Walker how he found his son slicing his arms.

“I have gone to use the loo, his room’s next door, there’s lights on and I walked in, and you see your son and ... because we were all keeping each other strong, but we weren’t exposing anything how it was affecting.”

The 43-year-old businessman was falsely accused by Williams of grooming her from the age of 12, putting her to work in brothels in Amsterdam and trying to sell her.

“And there was a point of where everybody, my sons wanting to move out, and I was like, ‘No, we’re not,’” the father was quoted as saying.  

“And my son he turned around and goes, ‘You know, you Dad, you’re known as a paedo. Everyone claims, everywhere on social media, my friends, this is a horrible town, why have you moved us here?’”

Ramzan went on to say that he once smashed a bottle and tried to slice his neck in front of his family and a friend, who grabbed his hand and stopped him.

The accused had also given the police an account of being taken to Blackpool, where she alleged Ramzan threatened her and where she was taken to different addresses and forced to have sex with men. 

Ramzan said that his family would remain in Barrow but admitted he was concerned that far-right supporters on social media were still saying that Williams’ claims were true. 

The family have decided to start a campaign to change the UK’s social media laws, and are looking at setting up a foundation as they work to “move forward.” 

Ramzan also plans to sue police and the Home Office over the torment that the investigation caused him.

Putin says Chinese proposal could be basis for peace in Ukraine

Putin says Chinese proposal could be basis for peace in Ukraine
Updated 22 March 2023

Putin says Chinese proposal could be basis for peace in Ukraine

Putin says Chinese proposal could be basis for peace in Ukraine
  • Xi’s state visit is a major boost to Putin as he squares off against what he sees as a hostile West bent on inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Tuesday that Chinese proposals could be used as the basis of a peace settlement in Ukraine, but that the West and Kyiv were not yet ready.
In a joint statement at the end of Xi’s state visit to Moscow, the two men cautioned against any steps that might push the Ukraine conflict into an “uncontrollable phase,” adding pointedly that there could be no winners in a nuclear war.
Putin accused Western powers of fighting “to the last Ukrainian,” while Xi reiterated China’s “neutral position” on Ukraine and called for dialogue.
“We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when they are ready for that in the West and in Kyiv. However, so far we see no such readiness from their side,” Putin said.
China’s proposal — a 12-point paper calling for a de-escalation and eventual cease-fire in Ukraine — lacks details on how to end the war.
The United States has been dismissive of the Chinese proposal, given Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia over Ukraine, and says a cease-fire now would lock in Russian territorial gains and give Putin’s army more time to regroup.


• Putin calls China Russia’s most important economic partner

• Xi is on a state visit to Moscow

• Putin says the West is not ready for peace in Ukraine

Ukraine has welcomed China’s diplomatic involvement but says Russia must pull out its troops and underlines the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The Kremlin talks were intended to cement the “no limits” partnership the two leaders announced last February, less than three weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.
They signed a series of documents on a “strategic cooperation” after what Putin described as “successful and constructive” talks showing China was clearly now Russia’s most important economic partner.
“I am convinced that our multi-faceted cooperation will continue to develop for the good of the peoples of our countries,” Putin said in televised remarks.
Xi’s state visit is a major boost to Putin as he squares off against what he sees as a hostile West bent on inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia.
The Chinese leader visited Moscow days after an international court issued an arrest warrant for Putin over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where Russian forces have made little progress in recent months despite suffering heavy losses.
In their joint statement, Xi and Putin also called on the United States to stop “undermining global strategic security” and to cease developing a global missile defense system.
While pledging more regular joint military drills, however, the two leaders said the closer relationship between the two countries was not directed against any third nation and that it did not constitute a “military-political alliance.”

Putin said that Russia, China and Mongolia had completed “all agreements” on finishing Russia’s coveted pipeline to ship Russian gas to China, and that Moscow was ready to increase oil exports to Beijing.
But a joint statement after the talks said only that the parties involved in the pipeline — which Putin has called just before Xi’s visit as “the deal of the century” — “will make efforts to advance work on the study and approval” of the pipeline.
The English versions of Xi’s two statements issued after the meetings do not mention the pipeline.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told reporters that there are still details that need to be worked out.
“Instructions were given to companies to work out the details of the project in detail and to sign it as soon as possible,” Russia’s state RIA news agency cited Novak as saying.
“Orders have been given to ensure the agreement’s conditions. We hope that it will be this year.”
The planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline would deliver 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year from Russia to China via Mongolia. Moscow put forward the idea many years ago, but it has gained urgency as Russia turns to China to replace Europe as its major gas customer.
Russia’s Gazprom already supplies gas to China through an existing Power of Siberia pipeline under a 30-year, $400 billion deal launched at the end of 2019. That pipeline spans some 3,000 km (1,865 miles).
Russia’s gas exports to China are still a small fraction of the record 177 bcm it delivered to Europe in 2018-19.
Putin said on Tuesday Russia would deliver at least 98 bcm of gas to China by 2030.