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Head Of WHO Inquiry Into Coronavirus Response Has Close Ties To Beijing, Should Step Down

As 194 countries gather online for the World Health Organization's annual assembly, which is slated this afternoon to hear the first progress report from its international inquiry into the origins and global response to the Coronavirus pandemic, an independent human rights watchdog is calling on the panel's co-chair, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, to recuse herself from the position on account of her numerous prior statements praising the WHO's response, and due to her close ties with the Chinese government.

Clark was appointed by the world's top health agency to co-chair the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, an impartial inquiry that will probe the WHO's handling of the Coronavirus and the response of governments around the world. The panel is scheduled to present its progress report today, and the final report in May 2021.

However, according to Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, “Clark's numerous statements this year praising the WHO for the very actions she is meant to investigate, as well as her history of close ties with Beijing—which backed her recent bid to become UN chief—give rise to the appearance of bias, and could seriously undermine the credibility of the panel's findings.“

“That is why we have written Ms. Clark a formal letter today, documenting the problematic statements, and urging her to step down from her role as co-chair of the inquiry."

"The WHO's selection of Helen Clark for the Coronavirus inquiry gives rise to legitimate concerns that both China and the WHO will get a free pass from an investigation whose findings could be essential to protecting global public health," said Neuer.

UN Watch's appeal to Clark comes after a recent New York Times report on the WHO's deference to China and praise for Beijing throughout the course of the pandemic.

The WHO schedule shows the brief progress report (A73/INF./4) will be presented this afternoon under Agenda Item 13.2, which deals with the WHO’s work in health emergencies.

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