West News Wire: After the Associated Press reported last year that dozens of staff employees accused him of racist, abusive, and unethical behavior that may have jeopardized the U.N. health agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization sacked its top officer in the Western Pacific.
In a message to staff members on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that Dr. Takeshi Kasai’s appointment had been “terminated” due to “findings of wrongdoing” after an internal inquiry.
Tedros simply mentioned Kasai’s position as regional director for the Western Pacific, not mentioning him by name. The removal of a regional director is unprecedented in WHO history.
“This has been an unprecedented and challenging journey for all of us,” Tedros wrote. He said that the process of naming a new regional director for the Western Pacific would begin next month, with the election to be held in October.
The Japanese government, which supported Kasai’s nomination for the role, declined to comment. Kasai previously denied acting in a racist or abusive way, saying that although he asked a lot of his staff, his behavior “should not result in people feeling disrespected.”
A summary of the internal WHO investigation presented at a meeting of the agency’s executive board this week in Geneva found Kasai regularly harassed workers in Asia, including engaging in “aggressive communication, public humiliation, (and) making racial comments.”
Senior WHO directors told the organization’s top governing body that Kasai had created a “toxic atmosphere,” that staff members were afraid of retaliation if they spoke out against him and that there was a “lack of trust” in WHO.
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 abuse and exploitation during the 2018-2020 Ebola epidemic in Congo.
More than 80 outbreak responders working primarily under WHO’s direction sexually abused or exploited vulnerable women; an AP investigation found senior WHO management was informed of multiple exploitation claims in 2019 but refused to act and even promoted one of the managers involved.
A recent internal U.N. report found the agency’s response to one case of alleged exploitation did not violate the rules because of a loophole in how WHO defines victims, a finding independent experts described as “an absurdity.”