Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a corrupt authoritarian. The United Nations is a wasteful, inefficient organization that tolerates corrupt authoritarians. Unfortunately, the two don’t make beautiful music together.
Not everyone at the UN is corrupt. One hero is Georges Tadonki, a Cameroonian who for a time headed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zimbabwe. The others are three judges in a United Nations Dispute Tribunal who last year ruled for Tadonki in a suit against the international organization.
Soon we will find if members of a UN appeals panel possess equal courage. That ruling is expected soon with rumors circulating that these judges might reverse course and absolve the organization of misconduct.
In 2008 President Robert Mugabe, who took power in 1980, and ZANU-PF, the ruling party, used violent intimidation to preserve their control. At the time Tadonki had been on station for six years and predicted epidemics of both cholera and violence.
Unfortunately, UN country chief Agostinho Zacarias dismissed Tadonki’s warnings. By the end of the year 100,000 people had been infected with cholera and thousands had died. During the election campaigns hundreds also had been killed by government thugs, who succeeded in derailing democracy.
Naturally, no good deed went unpunished. After extended discord between the two UN officials, Tadonki was fired in January 2009. There was little doubt that the action was retaliation for being right and embarrassing Zacarias—who now serves the UN in South Africa.
The controversy demonstrates that something is very wrong with the UN system. Tadonki decided to fight, though he had to ask the international law firm Amsterdam & Peroff to handle the litigation on a pro bono basis. Last year the UN Dispute Tribunal based in Kenya heard his case and Judges Vinod Boolell, Nkemdilim Izuako, and Goolam Merran issued their 104-page judgment.
They concluded “that the Applicant was not, at all material times, treated fairly and in accordance with due process, equity and the core values of the Charter of the Organization” and that OCHA management ignored the UN’s “humanitarian values.” The tribunal ordered the UN to apologize for its misbehavior, investigate the mistreatment of Tadonki, hold his superiors accountable for their misconduct, cover Tadonki’s litigation costs, pay past salary through the judgment date, and provide $50,000 in “moral damages for the extreme emotional distress and physical harm suffered by the Applicant.”