By Hafidz Baharom
There is plenty done by organisations affiliated to the United Nations that raise so many questions.
From the recent “Leading by Example” snafu with Permata, to perhaps the appointment of Saudi Arabia to the Human Rights Council Panel, these international bodies have seen themselves in an ironic situation of having to stomach the very people they are supposed to be standing against.
But on top of these examples, it should be highlighted that only one of its multitude of agencies has barred the public from speaking, the media from observing, and even banned the authorities involved in their cause from participating in their talks.
That particular, dictatorial crown goes to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and how they have handled their Conference of Parties (COP) on tobacco control.
During the last COP held in 2014 in Moscow, the public was banned on the first day, and the media was ejected on the second day. This isn’t the first time the WHO and nations taking part in the conference have banned the freedom of expression.
In fact, the representatives voted to ban the public and press from taking part in 2012, when it was held in South Korea.
Freedom of expression is a right guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
It is also perhaps why the UN established the internationally celebrated World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
And yet, it seems that this international health organisation seems keen to just abandon the principles of freedom of expression and speech, to get governments to work harder on stopping people smoking.
Perhaps there is a caveat in the UDHR that allows the suspension of these articles by the WHO over healthcare. Or perhaps the WHO have forgotten that they are under the UN and therefore should also observe the rights as listed in the UDHR.
It is fine to want to talk about making it harder for people to buy their cigarettes by increasing taxes and even putting packaging with grotesque warnings. However, why do so without the participation or consultation of the public and under the watchful eye of the press?
What exactly is being hidden by the WHO in their fight against smoking and tobacco, to the point of kicking out the public and the media?
Furthermore, the COP also saw the banning of authorities involved in combatting the sale of illicit cigarettes, namely the International Criminal Police Organisation – you might know it as Interpol. And yes, you read that right.
The WHO during COP, banned the participation and observation of all proceedings by the international police agency involved in combatting the sale of illicit cigarettes – a factor in stopping the sale of cheap and unregulated tobacco products.
In fact, the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) also guaranteed that the tobacco farmers will not be affected. And yet, the associations representing tobacco farmers have been denied from participating in the COP.
It is ironic that international parties constantly harp on the lack of media freedom in countries such as Malaysia, and then have an organisation under the UN that bans people from even watching the voting on international frameworks which will affect them.
In its quest to stopping people from smoking, the WHO needs to ponder whether it is supporting the values of the UN umbrella which it represents.
The WHO is already talking about banning the public, some non-government organisations, and even the media from their next anti-tobacco talk this November in India.
Recently released WHO documents also suggest that this UN body is trying to dictate to countries who can and can’t be on their national delegations – a clear case of the WHO trying to override national sovereignty.
As of right now, however, it is obvious that the international organisation seems to be stuck in being just as authoritarian as they make others out to be.
Hafidz Baharom is an FMT reader.
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