UN health organization to investigate racism, misconduct allegations | News | DW | 18.01.2019
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UN health organization to investigate racism, misconduct allegations

Among the allegations are charges of "systematic racial discrimination against Africans" working at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus ordered a probe last year.

A series of anonymous emails that circulated within the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has triggered an investigation into "allegations of misconduct," the agency said Thursday.

The allegations depict the WHO as an organization rife with racism, sexism and corruption. As a result, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus ordered an internal oversight office to carry out a probe.

Tedros, a former health minister of Ethiopia and WHO's first African director-general, did not speak about the details of the allegations. WHO stressed that since he took office in 2017, he had "championed openness, transparency and diversity".

The UN agency is "working consistently to increase geographical diversity and improve gender balance at all levels as part of its ongoing transformation process," an organization statement added.

Read more: WHO rescinds Mugabe appointment as 'goodwill ambassador'

'Systematic racial discrimination'

WHO spokeswoman Sarah Russell confirmed that the investigation was officially opened last year.

The first email was sent in April 2018 and in it, the anonymous writer claimed that "systematic racial discrimination against Africans" existed at WHO. The writer said that African staffers were being "abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to" by their colleagues in Geneva.

Two other emails addressed to WHO directors denounced senior officials for "attempting to stifle" investigations into such problems and alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including reportedly misspent Ebola funds.

Read more: WHO marks 70th anniversary and World Health Day amid some optimism

The last email was sent in December and it detailed 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.

Additionally, the anonymous writer also alleged that "crooked recruitment and selection" processes existed within the organization that were "tantamount to fraud, corruption and abuse of authority."

Tedros denied the claims that WHO's hiring policies are skewed and argued that his top management team was more geographically diverse and gender-balanced than any other UN organization.

"There is change already happening," he said during the December staff meeting, according to an audio recording provided to the Associated Press news agency.

The controversy surrounding WHO and its subsequent investigation come after other UN agencies have been rocked by harassment complaints.

At the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (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.

jcg/sms (AP, AFP)

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