|WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: AFP.
An American economist nominated for the Nobel peace prize has called for the head of the World Health Organisation to be prosecuted for genocide over his alleged involvement in directing Ethiopia’s security forces.
David Steinman accused Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 55, who took over at the WHO three years ago, of being one of three officials in control of the Ethiopian security services from 2013 to 2015.
Dr Tedros was the country’s health minister from 2005 to 2012 and its foreign minister until 2016, when his Tigray People’s Liberation Front party was the main member of the ruling coalition.
Mr Steinman, an economist and campaigner nominated for the peace prize last year, lodged the complaint at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
He claimed that Dr Tedros “was a crucial decision maker in relation to security service actions that included killing, arbitrarily detaining and torturing Ethiopians”.
Dr Tedros has risen to international prominence as the leader of the UN’s health body during the coronavirus pandemic. He is the organisation’s first leader without medical qualifications.
The complaint to prosecutors at the ICC comes after General Berhanu Jula, Ethiopia’s army chief of staff, called last month for the WHO leader to resign. He accused him of trying to procure weapons for the Tigray region, where the Ethiopian army is fighting local forces.
In his complaint, Mr Steinman pointed to a 2016 US government report on human rights in Ethiopia that found the “civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces, and local police in rural areas and local militias sometimes acted independently”.
Mr Steinman added that the US report cited “other documented crimes”. He accused Dr Tedros of being involved in the “intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters”, including “arbitrary arrest . . . and lengthy pre-trial detention”.
The complaint also alleged that Dr Tedros oversaw the “killing, and causing serious bodily and mental harm to, members of the Amhara, Konso, Oromo and Somali tribes with intent to destroy those tribes in whole or in part”.
Mr Steinman claimed that during the four years Dr Tedros “co-led” Ethiopia’s government, the regime “was marked by widespread or systematic crimes against humanity by subordinates”. His complaint can proceed only if it is adopted by prosecutors at The Hague court, which is independent of the UN. If they do, it would be the first prosecution of a senior UN figure.
Mr Steinman, a former consultant to the US National Security Council, was a senior foreign adviser to Ethiopia’s democracy movement for 27 years until its victory in 2018 under Abiy Ahmed Ali, the current prime minister.
Dr Tedros has denied the allegations and any wrongdoing. He issued a statement last month regarding the current situation in Tigray. “There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation,” he said. “This is not true and I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace”.
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