The American journalist and Ethiopia expert David Steinman has indicted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) top executive, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. At a digital press conference, Steinman said that Tedros was guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity because he did nothing to prevent abuses by government officials during his time as Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister from 2012 to 2016.
As head of the WHO, Tedros has diplomatic immunity, but according to Steinman, that should not prevent him from prosecuting the Ethiopian. In the case of Heads of State, immunity has not been an obstacle to the ICC, but the prosecution of a Director-General working for a UN organization is unprecedented. “Tedros was too much a part of the system not to have been responsible for the atrocities committed by government officials,” Steinman said.
Experts wonder how promising the charge is. Without having read the indictment, they ask whether Tedros is the right person to prosecute. “Has the specific role of Tedros in those crimes been so great, and are there no others with a greater role,” says Göran Sluiter, Professor of International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
Tedros comes from the Tigray region, where a bloody conflict is currently underway between the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the current Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian military has accused him of assisting local authorities in the rebellious region. Tedros is a member of the TPLF.
Steinman said that for the time being, he had only indicted Tedros because ten days ago, the Ethiopian Government-issued arrest warrants for other senior leaders of Ethiopia during the period (from 1991 to 2018) when the TPLF was in power in Ethiopia. “The ICC does not prosecute people who are also persecuted in the country where the acts took place.”
According to the journalist, who has long been an advisor to members of the opposition in Ethiopia, the charges have now been brought because, at the time of a pandemic, the WHO ‘cannot be led by a criminal’.