Robert Amsterdam is currently in Nairobi, Kenya, where he has just finished Day 1 of an administrative trial regarding the alleged wrongful treatment of a United Nations employee who had worked for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Harare, Zimbabwe. This individual, who had the bravery to come forward to blow the whistle on a hidden cholera epidemic, was personally harassed and threatened to within an inch of his life by parties within the U.N. allegedly linked to dictator Robert Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF as retribution.
Mr. Tadonki claims that the U.N.’s refusal to rapidly move on cholera was not simple negligence but politically motivated. According to Mr. Tadonki, the U.N. didn’t want to anger the host government, which was trying to convince the world in general and Africa in particular that all was well in Zimbabwe. The government’s official line–spelled out by Mugabe as late as December 2008–was that there was “no cholera.” According to Mr. Tadonki, his former superior, Mr. Zacarias, aligned the U.N. “behind a humanitarian situation analysis ‘acceptable’ to [the] government.”
The U.N. rewarded Mr. Tadonki’s criticism with a threat of dismissal, which prompted him to sue the U.N. for harassment at the U.N. Dispute Tribunal in Nairobi, Kenya. International lawyer Robert Amsterdam, famous for defending the Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is Mr. Tadonki’s pro-bono legal counsel.
Did the UN fail to fulfill its mission to protect the people of Zimbabwe out of political considerations? Did it make matters worse by refusing to acknowledge the outbreak of the epidemic? Those are some of the questions that the trial may soon answer.