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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Beat Richner declares "victory" in battle with UN

Beat Richner declares "victory" in battle with UN

A year after filing a quixotic lawsuit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

in The Hague charging the World Health Organization and UNICEF with "crimes

against humanity", Dr. Beat Richner of Kanta Bopha Children's Hospitals claims

the Swiss Government has vindicated his crusade.

Richner filed the claim on Dec 10, 1999 charging WHO and UNICEF with crimes against

humanity and violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The claim demanded a change in what Richner calls the UN's policy of "poor medicine

for poor people in poor countries" as well as reparations of approximately $800

million for the Cambodian government.

"I wanted to say that [UN medical policies] are a crime and that they're responsible,"

Richner told the Post on Dec 4 of his ICJ claim.

According to Richner, the WHO and UNICEF are guilty of "systematic ill-treatment...

destroying thousands of children's lives" due to the alleged recommendation

of ineffective medicine, UNTAC's alleged role in creating Cambodia's HIV/AIDS epidemic

and the treatment and diagnosis of Japanese encephalitis and tuberculosis.

The ICJ, which only addresses disputes between states, never responded to Richner's

claim in spite of his insistence that according to a 1995 ruling by the Cambodian

Ministry of Health (MOH) "Kanta Bopha was declared as [a] State in the [Cambodian]

State."

However, Richer now says that the claim attracted attention in international medical

circles and motivated the Swiss Government to dispatch an independent monitoring

team earlier this year which has declared Richner's Kanta Bopha Hospitals - two of

which are in Phnom Penh, a third in Siem Reap - as "a center for medical excellence

in a Third World country".

"This report is like a victory," Richner said. "The Swiss report supports

my view that it is possible to provide high quality medical treatment in poor countries

at a reasonable cost."

The Swiss report's findings concluded that the $9 million annual budget for the three

Kanta Bopha hospitals demonstrated "a relation between cost and efficiency...the

best ever seen in the world."

For Richner the Swiss government's recognition and the potential for substantial

increases in Swiss funding as a result is a sweet vindication for a WHO/UNICEF "boycott"

he says he's endured for almost a decade.

"In the eight years since we opened Kanta Bopha 1, nobody from WHO or UNICEF

has ever come to visitand see our operations," Richner said. "A WHO official

has told me that [Kanta Bopha] costs are too high, are comparable with the entire

budget of the health ministry and could not improve Cambodia's health situation in

a sustainable way."

Richner insists that first world standards of medical care can and should be made

available to Cambodians, particularly children, if applied with the same rigorous

attention to fairness and zero tolerance of corruption that he claims to have instituted

at Kanta Bopha.

"If the Kanta Bopha model were applied nationwide, Cambodia would not need the

various medical NGOs that are currently at work in the country," Richner said

of where the funding for such an expansion could be sourced.

And while Richner is admittedly one of the UN's fiercest critics for its medical

policies in Cambodia, most controversially for his attribution of the origins of

the Kingdom's HIV/AIDS epidemic on "brothel visiting UNTAC personnel spending

their more than $100 per diems", he expresses support for the UN's basic principles

and mission.

"I'm not against the UN...the UN and the [1992] Paris Peace Agreement were okay,"

he said. "But what they brought was a catastrophe... they could hav stopped

[Cambodia's HIV/AIDS epidemic]."

Phnom Penh-based UN personnel, however, are somewhat less magnanimous in their assessment

of Richner and his ICJ claim.

UNICEF spokesman Dr. Guydo Cornali gave only a curt "no comment" when asked

about Richner's ICJ claim.

Cornali later expanded on those remarks by saying "This discussion [between

Richner and the UN] has been ongoing for awhile...[Richner] has his opinions and

we respect them."

Cornali said that copies of Richner's ICJ claim had been forwarded to UNICEF headquarters

but that he didn't know of its current status.

"We don't want to get into a polemic that will lead nowhere," Cornali said

of Richner's views.

The WHO's Representative in Cambodia, Dr. Bill Pigott, said the rift between the

UN and Richner was rooted in clash of philosophical and methodological perspectives.

"[Richner] has a clinician's approach [in that] he sees the child in front of

him and wants to help," Pigott said. "The public health perspective is

to do the best for the whole community in as fair a means as possible to address

the health needs, both in terms of preventative measures and treatment, to children

and adults."

Pigott stressed that cooperation rather than confrontation was necessary to bridge

the gap between Richner and the UN.

"There's to much do be done to waste time arguing over the methods of what the

other is doing," he said. "What we should be doing is supporting the other's

work."

Richner takes heart from Pigott's more open-minded approach to his views, saying

that Pigott had indicated a willingness to visit Kanta Bopha to see first-hand Richner's

application of first world medical technology to third world health conditions.

However, Richner insisted that his attempts to seek legal address for the UN's past

medical misdeeds in Cambodia would continue.

"This is an important issue, so I will soon contact [the ICJ] to see why there

has been no response."

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