World Health Organization fires top Western Pacific official after he was accused of racist, abusive behavior

Streaming HUBMarch 9, 2023

The World Health Organization has fired its top official in the Western Pacific region after the Associated Press reported last year that dozens of staff members accused him of racist, disrespectful and unethical behavior, which undermined the UN health agency’s response to the coronavirus. The response to the pandemic may have been compromised.

In an email sent to staff on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Dr. Takeshi Kasai’s appointment was “terminated” following an internal investigation that resulted in “conclusions of misconduct”.

Tedros did not name Butcher, referring only to his title as regional director in the Western Pacific. This is the first time in the history of WHO that a regional director has been sacked.

“This has been an unprecedented and challenging journey for all of us,” Tedros wrote. He said the process of naming a new regional director for the Western Pacific would begin next month, with elections due in October.

The Japanese government, which supports Kasai’s nomination for the role, declined to comment.

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A summary of an internal WHO investigation presented at the agency’s executive board meeting this week in Geneva found that butchers regularly harassed workers in Asia, including “offensive communication, public humiliation, (and) racist remarks”. involves doing.”

Senior WHO directors told the organization’s top governing body that Butcher had created a “toxic environment”, that staff members feared retaliation if they spoke out against him and that there was a “lack of trust” in the WHO.

Officials also found Butcher manipulated at least one performance evaluation of a subordinate, according to confidential material obtained by the AP.

Butcher’s removal follows an AP investigation published in January 2022 that revealed that more than 30 unnamed WHO employees sent written complaints about the director to senior WHO leaders and members of the organization’s executive board.

Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization's regional director for the Western Pacific, addresses the media on October 7, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. The World Health Organization sacked Butcher on March 8, 2023, after dozens of employees accused him of racist, disrespectful and unethical behavior.

Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific, addresses the media on October 7, 2019 in Manila, Philippines. The World Health Organization sacked Butcher on March 8, 2023, after dozens of employees accused him of racist, disrespectful and unethical behavior. (AP Photo/Bullitt Marquez, File)

Documents and recordings show Butcher made racist remarks to his staff and attributed the rise of COVID-19 in some Pacific countries to “a lack of competence due to their inferior culture, race and socioeconomic level”.

Several WHO staffers who worked under Butcher said he improperly shared sensitive COVID vaccine information to help score political points with targeted donations to Japan, his home country. Kasai is a Japanese doctor who worked in his country’s public health system before moving to the WHO, where he has been for more than 15 years.

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Days after the AP report, WHO chief Tedros announced that an internal investigation into Butcher had begun. Tedros informed staff in an August email that Butcher was “on leave” and another senior official had been temporarily sent to take his place.

The termination of such a high-level official stands in stark contrast to WHO’s reluctance to punish other perpetrators of abusive and sometimes illegal behavior, including sexual exploitation and abuse during the 2018-2020 Ebola epidemic in Congo.

More than 80 outbreak responders, working primarily under the direction of WHO, sexually assaulted or exploited vulnerable women; An AP investigation found that senior WHO management was notified of several abuse claims in 2019, but declined to act and even promoted one of the managers involved .

A recent UN internal report found that the agency’s response to a case of alleged abuse did not violate rules because of “an absurdity” in the search by independent experts for how WHO defines victims. has been described.

None of the senior WHO officials linked to sexual abuse in Congo have been sacked, despite Tedros’ insistence that the agency has “zero tolerance” for misconduct.

“What we need now is how WHO enforces the rules on abuse,” said Sophie Harman, professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “Survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation (Congo) are still seeking justice; WHO must show them they matter.”

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In January, the AP reported that a WHO doctor expected to replace Butcher as regional director in the Western Pacific had previously faced sexual misconduct allegations.

Internal documents show that senior WHO managers were aware of previous sexual assault claims involving Fijian doctor Temo Vakanivalu, who was also accused of assaulting a woman at the Berlin conference. With the support of some WHO colleagues and his home country, Wakanivalu was preparing to run for the job of regional director.

Javier Guzman of the Center for Global Development said a strong internal justice system is still lacking at the WHO.

“It is not enough to decide on high-level cases like Dr. Butcher’s,” Guzmán said. “The WHO and Dr. Tedros must do a better job of guaranteeing that the zero-tolerance policy is genuine.”

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