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WaPo writer takes a look at WHO's history of cozying up to dictators — and it's not pretty

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It's not just China

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin — who earlier this week broke news about leaked State Department cables that suggest SARS-CoV-2 originated in a Wuhan lab — is now hitting the World Health Organization for its dubious past of supporting dictators.

The WHO has been roundly condemned for its role in parroting China's lies about the coronavirus at the start of the global pandemic, such as that the infectious disease could not be spread through human-to-human transmission. The Trump administration on Tuesday halted funding to the organization for repeating such lies and taking the communist government's "assurances at face value."

"But the WHO's penchant for cozying up to dictatorships at the expense of public is not limited to China," Rogin argued in a Friday report. "The WHO has done the same things and worse when it comes to the regime led by Bashar al-Assad" in Syria.

Here's more from Rogin:

The WHO is striving to maintain good relations with a regime that is bombing hospitals, using starvation as a weapon of war, and driving millions into homelessness or internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Conditions in those camps were subhuman long before the pandemic.

As humanitarian aid worker Simone Jeger wrote last year, almost all U.N. aid money goes through Damascus. Assad dictates how the funds are disbursed, stealing huge portions for his coffers, his cronies, and the Syrian military. This has the effect of undermining international sanctions and bolstering Assad's army, essentially helping him slaughter civilians and win the war.

Here's the upshot: The WHO's "humanitarian" efforts effectively offset sanctions and fund the regime's inhumane war on its own people.

Yet while hospital bombing wouldn't meet anyone's criteria for a functioning health care system, when WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Syria's health minister last year, he was quoted by Syrian state media as praising the country's health system. One of the organization's Twitter accounts later repeated the notion.

Rogin says that the WHO is hellbent on compromising with brutal regimes in order to maintain access to the vulnerable populations the regime's oppress. Problem is, despite any good in the intentions, the outcome is usually just more oppression.

His report included a statement from David Adesnik, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, that said as much and added that it's not just the WHO who has this problem — it's all the U.N. relief agencies.

"The WHO works hand-in-glove with the most brutal regimes, praising their health programs while ignoring or even subsidizing their war crimes," Adesnik said.

He added: "In Syria, even the deliberate bombing of hospitals hasn't led the WHO to reconsider its relationship with Assad. The WHO has a dictator problem because U.N. relief agencies all have a dictator problem."

As it pertains to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the WHO assesses that Syria's population is at high risk. But in order to advance containment and treatment in the country, the WHO is hamstrung to work through the Assad regime. Given its history of oppression, there is no reason to believe that the regime will do anything helpful for the Syrian population.

As of Friday afternoon, Syria had only reported 38 confirmed cases of the disease resulting in just 2 deaths, but health officials suspect the problem could soon, if not already, be much worse.

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