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]
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
"I'm not against the UN...the UN and the  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
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
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."