The Geneva Observer
November 19, 2020
NEWS - ANALYSIS
This article was first published as part of our newsletter briefing sent out on Thursday November 19, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content the moment it's published, straight in your inbox.
This morning, Ethiopian Army Chief of Staff General Birhanu Jula held a press conference where he accused Dr Tedros of supporting and trying to get weapons for the dominant political party in the Ethiopian state of Tigray. Dr Tedros was a senior Minister in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-led government for over ten years (health minister 2005-2012; foreign minister, 2012-2016), before being elected as the first African WHO D-G. A recent military operation was launched by the Ethiopian army in response to the reported occupation of a military base by regional Tigrayan forces several weeks ago. OCHA has warned over the past couple of days that the conflict there is intensifying, and UNHCR called the situation unfolding in the region a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.”
General Birhanu Jula knows the UN well. In 2014 he was appointed Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) by former UN chief Ban Ki-Moon. So far, he has offered no proof for his very serious accusations.
Although the story has been picked up by a number of major news outlets throughout the day, WHO only released a statement later in the evening. In it, Dr Tedros called on "all parties to work for peace and to ensure the safety of civilians and access for health and humanitarian assistance to those in need," adding "there have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation. This is not true and I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace."
The G|O understands that senior diplomats from major donor nations are looking into the claims, although this is hard as the army chief hinted he had evidence but held back from providing any during the press conference. ICRC, UNOCHA, UNHCR, WFP and the UN Chief are very active on humanitarian response, but there have so far been no humanitarian updates from WHO. Diplomats tell The G|O that some WHO staff were “frustrated” over WHO’s lack of guidance in relation to the crisis.