By Violet Gonda
5 April 2013
A senior United Nations (UN) official in Zimbabwe in 2008, Georges Tadonki, was wrongfully fired after he tried to warn the UN mission of a humanitarian crisis, according to a UN Dispute Tribunal.
Tadonki was head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Zimbabwe, and he predicted a cholera epidemic and an unprecedented wave of political violence in the country in 2008.
In a landmark case that has raised questions about the UN’s role in the country, the UN tribunal in Nairobi, Kenya determined in February that Tadonki was unlawfully dismissed in March 2009. This was after the UN’s country chief in Zimbabwe at the time, Agostinho Zacarias, ignored his warnings because of his ‘close ties’ with ZANU PF leaders.
Zacarias is said to have known key ZANU PF chefs when they were in Mozambique during the liberation struggle.
Tadonki’s legal team submitted evidence to show that Zacarias’s friendship with ZANU PF politburo members like Nicholas Goche blinded his judgment over the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, which resulted in the extremely violent and disputed 2008 election, as well as a cholera epidemic which killed thousands.
Journalist Peta Thornycroft who interviewed Tadonki during the 2008 crisis said it was clear that, unlike UN officials who had been based in Zimbabwe before him, he was not afraid to speak out and that he was “another kind of UN voice – one that I was not used to in Zimbabwe.”
“I was used to the kind of UN people who we speak to off the record and were not open at all with us. And no one was prepared to be quoted or identified. The UN seemed to be paralyzed in Zimbabwe during the political upheavals post 2000. And suddenly there was someone speaking so openly. That was such a change for us.”
Thornycroft added: “He spoke so frankly and openly. He said the UN has been asleep in Zimbabwe for 30 years and he said it is shocking.”
In a damning judgment showing misplaced priorities by its own humanitarian mission in Zimbabwe, the Tribunal said:
The Tribunal said Tadonki’s reports on the crisis in Zimbabwe “stepped on some big toes by stating the obvious,” and that his dismissal clearly showed that “humanitarian considerations only played second fiddle to political issues.”
Tadonki was awarded $50,000 in ‘moral damages’ and the Tribunal also referred Zacarias, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and two other senior officials to the Secretary General of the UN for disciplinary proceedings.
“To be vindicated after all these years restores my trust in the United Nations institutions, and reminds me why we should all continue working to cooperate among the international community to protect the poor and the most vulnerable people,” Tadonki is quoted by Zambian Watchdog publication.
He said the reputation of the UN should not be tarnished because of the misconduct of only a handful of individuals.
His lawyer Robert Amsterdam told the Aljazeera news group that the Tribunal’s decision is significant and exonerates his client who had been “denied access to his pension and victimized every day.”
The UN said it intends to appeal its own tribunal’s decision. But Armstrong said the Tribunal took two years to reach its decision and that there was nothing for the UN to appeal.
Zacarias is now the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in South Africa. We could not reach him for comment.