Europe is trying to further isolate Russia by pressuring the European director of the World Health Organization to consider relocating a key office away from Moscow.
The 53-country WHO European region, which includes Ukraine, Russia and the entire EU, meets Tuesday and Wednesday to consider a resolution that condemns Russia’s attacks on health facilities in Ukraine and could trigger an exodus of WHO experts from Moscow.
If accepted, the resolution would force the WHO to take a more political stance on the war. The health organization has been criticized in the past for taking openly apolitical positions, including for its caution in publicly calling out China in the early days of the pandemic.
It comes on the heels of high-level leaders, including WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visiting Ukraine over the weekend. During the visit, the head of the WHO’s emergency program, Mike Ryan, said that the WHO was continuing to document attacks on health care facilities.
“Intentional attacks on health facilities are a violation of international humanitarian law and as such, based on the investigation and attribution of the attack, represent war crimes in any situation,” he stated. Ryan added that while the WHO documented and verified the attacks, it was the job of bodies like the International Criminal Court to investigate the criminal aspect of the attacks.
The meeting of WHO members, which was requested on April 28 by 43 countries, including the 27 EU countries, will see a strongly worded resolution to be discussed. The draft resolution demands that the Russian Federation “ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of all medical and humanitarian personnel engaged exclusively in medical functions, their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.” .
It also asks the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge, to explore options “to safeguard the cooperation and technical assistance provided by the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, including the possible relocation of the said office in an area outside the Russian Federation.”
Going further, the resolution asks Kluge to “consider temporarily suspending all regional meetings in the Russian Federation.” The suspension of meetings in the region would be in effect until there is a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Ukraine has been less ambiguous about relocating the WHO office of noncommunicable diseases, tuiteando Sunday that “insists on the closure” of the office.
Decisions at the WHO are generally made by consensus and a note circulated by the WHO ahead of the meeting indicates that “to the extent possible” this should be the case. However, if a consensus cannot be reached, voting is allowed.
With more than 200 verified attacks on healthcare facilities and some 5.9 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, the health and humanitarian crises have reached “proportions not seen in Europe since World War II,” the European Alliance said. of Public Health in comments to POLITICO. This is having repercussions in the region, including in Russia, the alliance said. As such, EPHA is calling for an “immediate cessation of all military aggression and a transition to peaceful negotiations.”