The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has had a difficult year. During this time, the Ethiopian not only had to coordinate a global pandemic response but was under the constant media spotlight. He has been accused of being a "puppet" of China while his inability to accept the Asian country's failure in handling the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic also hurt his image. Now, a Nobel peace prize nominee has accused him of aiding genocide in Ethiopia and demanded prosecution.
According to the American economist David Steinman, who was nominated for Nobel peace prize in 2019, Ghebreyesus was one of the three officials in charge of Ethiopian security services between 2013 and 2015. During this period, his party Tigray People's Liberation Front was the main member of the ruling coalition. Steinman said that Ghebreyesus was a "crucial decision-maker in relation to security service actions that included killing, arbitrarily detaining and torturing Ethiopians."
Before becoming the first African to hold the top WHO post, Ghebreyesus was Ethiopia's Minister of Health between 2005 and 2012 and then Minister of Foreign affairs between 2012 and 2016. During that time, large-scale protests swept across Oromia and Amhara regions.
Ethiopian government was accused of not maintaining control over its security forces and local police. As per a U.S. Government report of 2016 on human rights practices in Ethiopia, "civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces, and local police in rural areas and local militias sometimes acted independently."
Even a report by Human Rights Watch accused the government, which Ghebreyesus was part of, a crackdown on peaceful protesters, leading to over 500 deaths. Apart from that, both reports cited systemic crimes against humanity and corruption by the government. Steinman, referencing the two reports, said that Ghebreyesus oversaw "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," The Times reported.
Steinman spent 27 years in Ethiopia and co-planned the country's civil resistance and election campaign in 2005. He was the senior foreign adviser for Ethiopia's democracy movement until 2018. During his time, he has witnessed the rise of Ghebreyesus as a political figure. The economist now has lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague, calling for the WHO chief's prosecution for genocide. In his complaint, Steinman added that Ghebreyesus was involved in "intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters' which included 'arbitrary arrest and lengthy pre-trial detention."
Anti-Ghebreyesus Voice Grows
However, this is not the first time that Ghebreyesus has faced criticism. The Trump Administration has earlier accused him of siding with Beijing and suppressing China's failure in handling of the Coronavirus that has led to over 1.5 million deaths and a global recession due to the nation-wide lockdowns.
Recently, Ethiopia's army chief General Berhanu Jula also accused Ghebreyesus of supplying weapons to local forces in Tigray region, asking him to step down from his WHO post. Jula's accusations came amid the Tigray conflict. Since November 2020, the central Ethiopian forces are fighting the local Tigray forces loyal to Ghebreyesus' party Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF which was in the coalition of Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) pulled out of the alliance due to differences in 2018.
As for the complaint in the ICC, the case can only proceed if prosecutors at the ICC decide to take it up. If they do so, it will be the first time that a top United Nations official to be prosecuted. However, Ghebreyesus has denied the allegations in a statement last month.