May 12, 2022 | Policy Brief

Biden Should Press WHO to Suspend Russia

May 12, 2022 | Policy Brief

Biden Should Press WHO to Suspend Russia

The member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region overwhelmingly passed a resolution on May 10 condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with 43 votes in favor and only Russia, Belarus, and Tajikistan opposed. The vote advances the Biden administration’s efforts to isolate Russia within international organizations yet imposes no meaningful consequences on Russia for its aggression.

Ukraine and 37 other members of the WHO European Region proposed the resolution, titled “WHA75: Health emergency in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, stemming from the Russian Federation’s aggression.” “WHA75” refers to the 75th meeting of the World Health Assembly — the annual gathering of WHO member states — which will take place in Geneva from May 22 through May 28. The assembly may consider additional measures against Russia.

The European Region resolution, which follows condemnations by the UN General Assembly on March 2 and March 24 and the UN Human Rights Council on March 4, expresses strong concern “over the ongoing health emergency in Ukraine and neighbouring countries triggered by the unprovoked and unjustified military aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.” Lacking binding authority, the resolution then urges the WHO to relocate outside of Russia its European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. The resolution also calls on the WHO not to hold regional meetings in Russia until the Russian military withdraws beyond Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

While the resolution demonstrates European support for Ukraine, it stopped short of urging perhaps the most important steps the WHO could take: removing Russia from the WHO Executive Board and suspending Moscow’s voting rights within the organization. The WHA is likely to consider additional Russia-related measures later this month, but neither the United States nor its allies have announced specific plans.

Under Article 7 of the WHO Constitution, the WHA has the authority to suspend a member’s voting rights if it “fails to meet its financial obligations to the Organization or in other exceptional circumstances.” The WHO Constitution does not explicitly assign authority to remove a country from the Executive Board, though Ukraine has contended the WHA retains the authority to do so. These moves would add to Moscow’s international isolation following its suspension from the UN Human Rights Council and the UN World Tourism Organization.

Some WHO members have expressed concern that isolating Russia at the WHO could upend technical cooperation and information exchanges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other global health priorities. Yet voting rights and service on the WHO Executive Board are political privileges. Their denial should not interfere with technical programs or information exchanges.

As part of its commitment to isolate Russia within international organizations, the Biden administration should lead a multilateral campaign to suspend Moscow’s voting rights at the WHO. It should also work with key allies to support Ukraine’s contention that the WHA can vote to remove Russia from the WHO Executive Board.

Should the administration fail in achieving either result, Congress should consider, as a last resort, conditioning a percentage of U.S. funding for the WHO on the suspension of Russia’s voting rights and its removal from the Executive Board.

Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he directs its International Organizations Program. Iselin Brady is an international organizations research intern at FDD. For more analysis from the authors and the International Organizations Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Richard on Twitter at @rich_goldberg. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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