A man you probably have never heard of is Dr. Yonas Biru, an Ethiopian and a victim of racial injustice at the World Bank. In protest, he has been on a hunger strike since January 12.
Unfortunately, the last administration did not lift a finger to help Dr. Biru, nor did numerous others in American government.
Dr. Biru’s is a story of David vs. Goliath(s) who exist (literally) outside of the rule of law. In his 10 years pursuing justice, Dr. Biru has felt that only God and his family have stood by him, along with four confidential providers of materials that showed coordinated acts of racism and a coverup at the World Bank.
The perpetrator, the World Bank (WB), is immune from U.S. laws and courts. It was run by an Obama appointee, Jim Yong Kim, until his abrupt resignation last month.
The racial injustice Dr. Biru suffered has been condemned across the political spectrum. From the right, Dr. Ben Carson wrote the case shows “President Kim’s lack of humanity.” From the left, Jesse Jackson published two open letters of appeal to President Obama and the pope to intervene.
In addition, U.S. law makers from both Chambers of Congress and over 500 leaders and representatives of religious organizations appealed for justice. All to no avail.
The perpetrators were primarily an Iranian and Turkish (WB) executives and high-level officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Union (EU), and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These are institutions with absolute immunity from U.S. laws and courts because of their status as international organizations.
Dr. Biru was an internationally praised deputy global manager of what the WB calls “the largest and most complex economic comparison program in the world.” In this capacity, he was praised in his official personnel record for “his tireless work on the development of global and regional strategies and for broadening the scope of the global partnership … and for handling difficult projects.”
The problem began after the caucasian global manager of the program retired and Dr. Biru expressed interest in applying for the position. As documented in Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s 73-page report, the WB told him “Europeans are not used to seeing a black man in a position of power” and advised him not to file his application.
Dr. Biru rejected the advice and submitted his application. Apparently the prospect of having an African as global manager of such a high-profile program sent the EU, OECD, and IMF into a frenzy.
In a sworn and taped statement, the Iranian WB executive revealed that she denied Dr. Biru the Global Manager position after she received what she called “unsolicited sensitive feedback” from officials of the EU, OECD and IMF. She claimed the message made her “feel uncomfortable.”
Considering Dr. Biru’s stellar management and leadership record, the WB came up with what the Iranian characterized as a “win-win” arrangement. The “win” for Dr. Biru was that he “took charge of the global work at its most critical time.” But this was concealed from the Europeans.
The “win” for the Europeans was that the WB designated a race-appropriate consultant (i.e., not black) as a fake global manager without his undertaking any management functions.
The record shows that Dr. Biru was instructed not to reveal that he was the one running the global program. An internal memo required him to “maintain the confidentiality of Bank processes and not to share this issue outside the Bank.”
Because the WB is immune from lawsuit due to its status as an international organization, the only option Dr. Biru had was to file a complaint with the WB Appeals Committee. The essence of his complaint was that the WB colluded with European organizations to discriminate against him.
A confidential memo in which the WB assured its European partners that
“Yonas Biru will not get a copy or see it” revealed an agreement between the WB and the chair of the board of the global program.
In the memo, the chair of the board who served as an interlocutor for the EU, OECD and IMF acknowledged “it is not possible to designate a short-term consultant as Global Manager even on an informal basis.” Nonetheless, he made it clear that he had assured the IMF, EU and OECD that Dr. Biru will not be designated global manager and the short-term consultant will hold the title of global manager.
This could not be explained by business reasons. Four WB officials are on the record confirming consultants are “not allowed to manage staff or budget.” Inside the WB, Dr. Biru chaired all meetings and supervised all staff, including the consultant in question. At international meetings, the WB introduced the consultant as global manager and Dr. Biru as his deputy.
Inside the WB, Dr. Biru chaired all meetings and supervised all staff, including the consultant in question. At international meetings, the WB introduced the Consultant as Global Manager and Dr. Biru as his deputy.
Two WB officials, including the Iranian, gave sworn statements that the WB had no choice but to accommodate the Europeans. Both stated on the record and under oath that if the WB failed to submit to the demands of the Europeans, the IMF official was prepared to move the Global Manager position to the IMF.
The Iranian stated “I thought at that point it’s going to be very embarrassing for the Bank” and did what the Europeans wanted. She added “I’m sorry, it broke my heart.”
During the Appeals Committee proceedings, Dr. Biru wanted to call the Europeans as adversarial witnesses. The WB’s lawyer put the Committee “on notice” not to grant Dr. Biru’s request.
The lawyer stated that “the General Counsel of OECD is making a special trip” to Washington to talk to WB officials. They are “very nervous.” They are “being advised of the risk” of being cross-examined. The Committee obliged and denied Dr. Biru the right to call witnesses.
As Sen. Van Hollen’s report documented, the Committee concluded “There was no business reason for the actions taken against Dr. Biru” and “strongly” recommended the WB “immediately enter into a binding mediation.”
The WB’s Turkish HR vice president rejected it and terminated Dr. Biru for challenging the Iranian. The Tribunal found Dr. Biru’s termination unlawful, but ruled he should not be reinstated because “he had criticized his managers,” namely the Iranian.
The injustice went from bad to worse after the “nervous” OECD General Council met with WB officials. A new legal strategy was concocted to change the WB’s position that the “Europeans made us do it” to “Europeans had nothing to do with it” sworn narrative.
The new legal defense strategy was unveiled before the WB Tribunal. The American lawyer who represented the WB during the Appeals Committee proceedings removed herself from the case. A Nigerian lawyer took over and aggressively orchestrated the perjury-centric legal defense.
The first target for the WB’s perjury was Dr. Biru’s official record that acknowledged “He managed and brought to fruition important methodological innovations in critical areas that have created a lasting legacy.”
This was problematic for the Europeans because they have adopted several of the methodological innovations as gold standards for global economic comparison. It was politically untenable for them to adopt innovations introduced under Dr. Biru’s leadership and object to him becoming global manager. The WB removed Dr. Biru’s name and leadership roles from its publications and gave the credit to caucasian managers.
Five professors and experts who were consultants on different methodological research rejected the WB’s perjury in the strongest terms. One wrote that it is “an outright lie that violates human decency.” Another characterized it as “utterly false and an absurd distortion of reality.” [Keep in mind, these negative comments are from people who have a personal interest in not offending the WB, yet they felt so strongly, they defied their own interests in speaking out against the injustice the WB was perpetrating against Dr. Biru.]
The second problem for the Europeans was the WB’s sworn and recorded testimonies that blamed them as the culprits of the racial injustice. To remedy this, the WB withdrew all earlier sworn statements and replaced them with a new storyline under oath.
The new storyline was that the EU, OECD and IMF had “no relevance with the impugned administrative decisions” in the global manager selection.
The WB record that documented Dr. Biru “took charge of the global work at its most critical time … he was praised for managing one of the most critical programs the WB has ever managed … and his work in managing sensitive relationships between international stakeholders is very impressive” gave way to a new lie under oath.
The new narrative was that “He had no management responsibility in the WB’s global management work … He doesn’t have the judgment and relationship management skills … He lacks credibility with the international community.”
To add insult to injury, they posted the falsified and defamatory record and a plethora of other lies on the Bank’s website.
The Tribunal’s French, Indian and Ugandan judges ruled they “had no reason to question the credibility” of the Iranian who liberally lied under oath and vindicated the WB, justifying its actions by “business reasons.” Two things were terribly wrong with the judgment.
First, the Tribunal inadvertently copied Dr. Biru in a confidential email exchange between the judges and the Tribunal Secretariat, which documented all the Iranian’s lies and characterized her as “dishonest.” Second, the Ugandan Judge wrote to Dr. Biru, suggesting he did not agree with the ruling but he “did not find it fit to dissent” because he “was not yet ready for such a momentous step” to vote against the French and Indian judges.
In 2014, under pressure from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the WB restored Dr. Biru’s official record in his internal file. Nonetheless, according to Dr. Biru, it refused to make the corresponding corrections on its website; its legal stand is that Dr. Biru’s official record is ‘too good to be true.’
Dr. Biru filed an appeal with the Tribunal to instruct the WB to correct his public record. His appeal stressed that the WB has no legal or moral ground to keep the proven false and defamatory record on its website after it corrected and restored his record internally.
The Tribunal reopened the case and asked the WB to respond. The WB’s senior adviser for racial equality filed an amicus brief, condemning the injustice as the worst racial discrimination case he had ever seen and supporting the Tribunal’s decision to reopen the case. More importantly, Dr. Biru’s appeal coincided with the conclusion of the WB’s official diversity report that characterized his case as a “blatant and virulent case of racism.”
President Kim embargoed the diversity report that was prepared for public release. In the meantime, the Human Resources department tried to negotiate with the consultant who prepared it to whitewash it. After the author refused, the Bank “took the matter into its own hands and liberally edited it.”
The general counsel, a French national, acknowledged Staff Rule 2.01 requires the WB to correct false public record and disclose the truth to mitigate “reputational damage” to the affected staff. Nonetheless, she insisted the WB will not honor the staff rule in Dr. Biru’s case.
There seems to be a silver lining in the dark cloud. President Kim, who was bent on denying Dr. Biru justice, has abruptly resigned under unfavorable circumstances.
President Kim’s disgraced departure has opened a door for the WB to do the right thing. Dr. Biru is not seeking to be reinstated to his job. Nor is he interested in relitigating his racial discrimination case. What he demands is for the Bank to honor the Staff Rule and accord him the same protection against defamation that the Bank extends to non-black staff.
This is a human rights issue and the buck stops with the current interimpresident and the WB Board. It is long past time for the World Bank to abandon its ‘too good to be true for a black man’ defense and accept that Dr. Biru deserves complete redress. Justice is overdue.
Should the WB fail to do the right thing, the Trump administration should act, starting by revoking the visas of the perpetrators of this crime and those who covered up the crime and defunding the World Bank.
Ken Cuccinelli II, the former attorney general of Virginia, is president of the Senate Conservatives Fund.
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