Russia Delays World Health Assembly While North Korea Condemns ‘Satanic’ US 
WHA president Chris Fearne prepares to announce the results of the secret ballot

Russia’s objection to the nomination of Ukraine for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Executive Board delayed Friday’s World Health Assembly – while the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) also took diplomatic potshots at each other.

What was supposed to be a straightforward endorsement of the 10 members put forward by member states to fill the vacancies on the 34-person board turned into a lengthy delay as officials organised a secret ballot.

The European Union and Monaco objected, saying that the outcome of the vote was already clear.

Meanwhile, Russia also objected to the process of the ballot, which it described as “merely procedural and not an election since the member-states cannot vote against any single candidate in the ballot”. 

It also took exception to New Zealand being one of two representatives to count the ballots: “New Zealand has repeatedly spoken against our delegation… We have no trust the teller will be carried out correctly.” 

South Africa was deemed an acceptable replacement for New Zealand, and the ballot went ahead – once again resulting in Russian humiliation with 123 member states supporting all 10 new members, 13 abstentions and six spoiled ballots (35 countries were absent).

“We are encouraged by the unanimity and resolve of the World Health Assembly in standing up to Russia’s unprecedented assault on WHO governing bodies,” said Ukraine, noting that Russia continued to attack health facilities and kill civilians and health workers.

One of the newly elected board members is from North Korea, something that disquietened the US.

“The US takes this opportunity to reinforce the expectation of members of the executive board and calls on the government of the DPRK to respect human rights, fulfil its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and engage in serious and sustained diplomacy,” it noted.

In response, North Korea’s representative described the US as “Satanic” and its comments an “abuse” of the WHA.

Russia, North Korea, Syria and Egypt all objected to the politicisation of the WHA. The Executive Board is composed of 34 persons who are technically qualified in the field of health, each designated by a member state and elected for three-year terms.

(Additional reporting by Megha Kaveri)

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