Disturbing allegations of rampant corruption, misappropriation of tax-payer funds, abuse, and missing medical items at the UN’s World Health Organization in Damascus have been revealed in a report by the Associated Press.
According to whistleblowers, WHO Damascus boss Dr Akjemal Magtymova threw lavish parties that violated COVID protocols, gave gold coins as gifts to regime officials, and hired incompetent relatives of regime officials including some accused of countless human rights violations – all while doctors and medics across Syria were risking their lives to save people dying from COVID amidst a severe lack of vaccines and oxygen.
What’s worse is the WHO’s global chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus knew about the rotten culture at the heart of WHO Syria months ago. Yet Magtymova has not been removed from her position and is still receiving a director-level salary.
These allegations are a prime example of an under-scrutinized UN operation in Damascus that has allowed the Assad regime to divert aid away from the people who need it most to fund its crimes against the Syrian people and enrich those loyal to it.
We must demand accountability and reform. Right now, a cholera outbreak sweeping the country has already killed at least 75 people, while Syria’s health system is still struggling from the COVID pandemic and years of systematic attacks on hospitals and medical workers by the Syrian regime. Humanitarian needs are greater than ever before and millions across Syria are reliant on aid to survive.
As far back as 2016, we uncovered how the UN in Syria was in breach of the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, and neutrality by allowing Assad to dictate where UN aid goes from Damascus, who the UN is allowed to work with and what the UN spends its money on.
Numerous subsequent investigations exposed deep flaws in UN Damascus procurement practices, awarding UN contracts worth millions to individuals who are sanctioned for their human rights abuses. Most recently, a report estimated that at least $68 million of UN funds have gone to companies with owners sanctioned by the US, EU, or the UK. A company co-owned by the leader of a militia responsible for the Tadamon massacre was even awarded UN contracts worth more than one million dollars.
The WHO opened an internal probe in response to complaints by its Syria staff, but those investigations are notoriously protracted and lack transparency. Let’s shed light on the scandal that the WHO and the UN have allowed to fester — add your voice to demand a serious investigation into corruption at the WHO and urge donor governments to ensure effective measures are taken by the UN so that their aid money is not politicized or spent in a way that violates human rights in Syria.
In contrast to its Damascus operation, the UN’s cross-border aid to northern Syria is one of the most heavily scrutinized and monitored aid operations in the world, leaving little doubt that help is reaching those who need it. The UN has shown that it can do better, and it must – millions of lives rely on it.