The US on Wednesday expressed concern at the presence of Belarus and Syria as Executive Board members of the World Health Organization (WHO), saying they have conducted “abuses” against their citizens.
Amy Norris, a senior health adviser to the US State Department, said there are “grave concerns that governments of two new board members, Belarus and Syria,” do not share the WHO’s values demonstrated by their “respective human rights violations and abuses against” their own citizens.
Norris said that both Belarus and Syria had been “overwhelmingly condemned by the international community.”
Belarus and Syria were among a group of countries chosen to serve the Executive Board at last week’s World Health Assembly.
“In particular we note Syria’s track record of conducting chemical weapons attacks harming civilians and striking medical facilities as well as first responders,” said Norris.
The US, which is not a current WHO board member, said it called on the governments of both Belarus and Syria to respect human rights.
“We also call on Syria to allow for the unimpeded access of life-saving humanitarian aid, including medical supplies regardless of where those in need are located,” said Norris.
A Syrian diplomat responded by saying that leading the WHO on “political imperatives that politicize the humanitarian nature of operating in this field is going in the wrong direction.”
Later in the session, Syria issued a statement, saying: “These puzzling politicized comments made by the United States are a clear example of a systematic policy that flies in the face of the UN Charter and international law.”
A Belarus envoy also criticized the US intervention and “politicized discussion.”