Japan to watch WHO director 'abuse' probe
The World Health Organisation says it is looking into allegations a regional director in Asia bullied staff, used racist language and leaked sensitive vaccine data to the Japanese government - accusations the official denies.
Officials in Tokyo said on Friday they will watch the WHO's investigation into staff complaints over racism and abuse by Takeshi Kasai but denied the government inappropriately received sensitive vaccine information from him.
WHO staffers have alleged that Kasai - the Manila-based director of the western Pacific region - engaged in unethical, racist and abusive behaviour, undermining their efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal complaint filed last October.
The complaints were also emailed to senior WHO leaders last week and describe a "toxic atmosphere" with "a culture of systemic bullying" at the WHO's regional headquarters in the Philippines.
Recordings obtained by the Associated Press also indicate that Kasai, who heads a vast region that includes China and Japan, made derogatory remarks to his staff during meetings based on nationality.
Kasai denied the allegations.
Koichiro Matsumoto, deputy cabinet secretary for public affairs at Japan's Prime Minister's Office, told the AP on Friday the government understands the WHO is taking appropriate steps and that Japan plans to carefully watch the investigation.
Matsumoto denied that the Japanese government inappropriately received sensitive vaccine information from Kasai that he allegedly obtained by abusing his position.
"There is no truth (to the allegation) that the Japanese government inappropriately accepted sensitive information related to our vaccine contributions," he said.
In a statement provided by the WHO, Kasai acknowledged being "hard on staff" but rejected charges of racism or that he shared confidential information with Japan.
He wrote that he was considering how to improve his management style and the work environment.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Friday he was unaware of the allegations against Kasai before reading media reports and that he would seek a briefing from the WHO.
He suggested the WHO's internal processes for examining such significant allegations would benefit from some kind of external oversight.
"We will be asking the WHO for independent advice as to the nature and response to these claims," Hunt said.
France's diplomatic mission in Geneva said it had "zero tolerance" for all forms of discrimination, harassment and abusive behaviour.
It sits on the WHO's executive board and received a copy of the emailed complaints last week.
"If these events turn out to be true, it will be up to the director-general of the World Health Organisation to take every step that he considers appropriate," the mission said.
It said it was taking "very seriously the grave accusations made with regard to Dr Kasai".
The French mission said the consequences could include WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus consulting with the WHO's executive board about the "possible termination" of Kasai's contract.
"France and its partners will be extremely attentive to the proper conduct of this investigation as well as its results," the mission said.
The racism and abuse claims add to a litany of internal protests from WHO personnel about the agency's management of the pandemic during the last two years, including privately complaining about China's delayed sharing of information while publicly praising the government.
The WHO has dealt with internal complaints from staffers alleging systemic racism, sexism and other problems before.
Tedros ordered an internal probe in January 2019 to assess such allegations.
Last year, the AP reported that senior WHO management was informed of multiple sexual abuse reports involving its own staffers during the Ebola outbreak in Congo but failed to act.
WHO staffers said they took their complaints directly to Australia's government to ask for help because the Australian government is regarded as one of the most influential WHO member countries in the region.
Last October, the director of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised one of the WHO staffers in an email to submit their complaints to WHO's integrity hotline.
The official said Australia would "raise the complaints directly through our regular channels with senior leaders in WHO... and seek assurances they will address and take quick and responsive action," according to the email obtained by the AP.
WHO staffers said they have not been informed of any investigation into their numerous allegations since.
with reporting from Reuters
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