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Yonas Biru

The World Bank, EU, OECD and IMF are institutional partners of the Global Poverty Project. Would the project’s Annual Global Citizen’s Festival in N.Y. tell Jay Z to sing his hit songs from behind the curtains because of his race and have a white performer lip-sync his hits on the festival stage? This is what the World Bank did to Dr. Yonas Biru to spare Europeans the indignities of seeing a black man in a position of power.

Rare is the case when conservatives and liberals, from Dr. Ben Carson to Reverend Jesse Jackson, and from Breitbart News to Afro American Newspaper, join voices with leaders of over 500 faith-based organizations to bring to light institutionalized racial discrimination in the U.S.

Even rarer is the case when U.S. lawmakers from both Chambers of Congress request three U.S. government agencies - Departments of State, Treasury and Justice - to investigate a racial discrimination case. Despite it all, justice has not been rendered.

The victim is Dr. Yonas Biru, an Ethiopian national and a permanent resident of the U.S. The culprit is the World Bank that is immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts. In 2014, the World Bank justified the precedent-setting racial discrimination case by business rationales, after a study it commissioned found it to be a “blatant and virulent case of racism,” and its Senior Advisor for Racial Equality condemned it as being “profoundly beyond the pale.”

Though there are over two-dozen articles by liberal civil rights leaders about Dr. Biru’s case, my primary focus will be on those by conservatives because rare is the case that they admit the presence of institutionalized racial injustice, much less condemn it in public.

Dr. Carson attributed Dr. Biru’s suffering to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim’s “lack of humanity.” Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist, asked: “In what way are the World Bank’s actions different from what white supremacists espouse? In an “Open letter to [President Trump], Pastor Steve Parson, “Advisory Board for National Diversity Coalition for Trump,” presented the injustice as “the first legally sanctioned racial discrimination case on U.S. soil in the 21st century.”

What sparked the unprecedented outrage in the conservative landscape?

The World Bank stripped Dr. Biru of his stellar management performance record, claiming that it is “hagiographic” and defended its decision to credit white World Bank and IMF managers for his work. Merriam Webster defines “hagiography” as a “biography of saints.” What was that the Bank found unsuitable for a Black manager, but fitting for white managers? Dr. Biru’s performance record reads in part:

  • “He has multiple roles in the Bank's global management, managing one of the most critical programs the World Bank has ever managed.”
  •  “The global program is extremely important and high profile with many international partners involved... Yonas’ work in managing sensitive relationships between stakeholders is very impressive.”
  • “He initiated and managed methodological innovations in critical areas that have created a lasting-legacy… The program just couldn’t be successful without his expertise and knowledge of key players.”

Retrospectively, this was declared too good to be true for a Black man. The problem started when Dr. Biru applied to become the global manager of a high-profile international program. In October 2016, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen wrote a three-page letter to the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, stating: "While serving as Deputy Global Manager, Dr. Biru applied for promotion to Global Manager. In response, he was told he could not be promoted because 'Europeans are not used to seeing Black man in a position of power.’"

As described in Reverend Jackson’s open letter to President Obama, “The consolation that the World Bank offered [Dr. Biru] was to be a de facto global manager without official recognition and accept the Bank's decision to front a white consultant as global manager. The Bank had no qualms acknowledging that World Bank rules do not allow consultants to work fulltime or manage any World Bank project. Evidently, the white consultant was fronted as global manager not to offend Europeans by designating a black man as global manager.”

Since the World Bank is immune from lawsuits, Dr. Biru’s complaint was heard internally, first by the World Bank Appeals Committee and then by the Administrative Tribunal.

During the Appeals Committee hearing, one of the Bank’s senior executives (an Iranian) put the blame on three high-level officials of the European Union (EU), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a DC based organization run by Europeans.

The Iranian testified under oath and on tape stating “the day-to-day coordination of the global work and the team was basically taken over by Yonas Biru” but the consultant was designated global manager to avoid “a very embarrassing situation.” She said: “I’m sorry, it broke my heart.” She went on further: “You see I'm not sort of a European blonde… How could I discriminate against somebody else?”

A confidential memo that the World Bank promised its European partners that Dr. Biru “will not get a copy or see it” confirmed the Iranian claim that the EU, OECD and IMF were the culprits.

As noted in Senator Van Hollen’s letter, “the Bank’s Appeals Committee concluded that there was ‘no business reason’ for the action taken against Dr. Biru. The Committee recommended the Bank ‘immediately enter into binding mediation.’” The Bank rejected it.

The next stop for Dr. Biru was the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. World Bank officials are on the record under oath that the OECD flew its General Counsel to Washington to discuss the matter. They were “very upset” that Dr. Biru got a copy of the confidential memo that exposed them and that he was threatening them with a lawsuit.  The World Bank claimed that the Europeans were “being advised of the risk... Should they be sued, they will not have immunity” in the U.S.

During the Tribunal hearing, the World Bank decided to shift the responsibility from the Europeans whose immunity in the US was being questioned to the World Bank whose immunity is ironclad.

The Bank’s lawyers called the Iranian official to the stand and forced her to recant her earlier sworn testimonies. Her new storyline was that the Europeans had “no relevance with the impugned administrative decisions.” She said it was her decision independent of any external agency.

As part of the coordinated perjury, the World Bank concocted a scheme to establish an “objective reason” to delegitimize Dr. Biru’s qualification for the global manager position. It filed a forged document with the Tribunal stating: “He had no management responsibility" and therefore lacked “relevant management experience.” To give credence to its new storyline, the Bank redacted his titles and management and leadership record from its publications and websites.

Senator Van Hollen provided evidence of this enclosing “copies of Dr. Biru’s original performance evaluation and the redacted version, as well as a list of the damaging citation that remain on the Bank's website that contradicts Dr. Biru's official performance record.”

In a confidential memo that Dr. Biru was copied on by mistake, the Tribunal characterized the Bank’s misrepresentation and perjury of his personnel record as “dishonest.” However, in its official judgment, it ruled that all the World Bank and its partners have done was justified by business rationales.

Adding insult to injury, the World Bank terminated Dr. Biru. The Tribunal found his termination “capricious” and “an abuse of discretion,” but rejected his request for reinstatement because “Neither the Tribunal’s Statute nor its Rules require that the Tribunal must order reinstatement when it finds a termination decision to be arbitrary.”

Dr. Biru found himself out of work and without a professional record. As Senator Van Hollen noted, his pursuit of justice focused on getting “his professional record restored so that he may pursue other opportunities and be able to provide for his family.”

Under relentless pressure from the US Treasury, the World Bank HR unit sent him a note to inform him that his redacted management record “will be scanned into your staff files.” However, the General Counsel refused to correct the perjured record on the Bank’s website. The explanation was that the internally restored record is “hagiographic” - too good to be true – for a Black man. Therefore, it will remain sealed. The perjured defamatory record will remain as his public record.

Dr. Biru filed an appeal with the Tribunal, contending that the Bank’s decision to restore the record internally is equivalent to admitting what is on the Bank’s website is perjured.

His request was twofold. First was to have the Tribunal reconsider its decision on his racial discrimination case. Second was to have the Bank restore his title and leadership roles in its publications and remove the defamatory remarks from its website.

The Tribunal reopened the case and gave the Bank an opportunity to respond. The Bank filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. The General Counsel responded to Dr. Biru's allegations of perjury stating: “These were facts known to the Tribunal when the two judgments [discrimination and termination] were delivered.”

The Bank made its case providing concrete evidence that the Tribunal had before it a document titled "Serial Perjury by the World Bank and its Institutional Witnesses." It knew the Bank’s evidence was perjured. Thus, the General Counsel argued, the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction to reopen what it has willfully ruled as legal and binding.

The Tribunal conceded the jurisdictional challenge and backed off from reviewing the merits of the appeal.  In his letter, Senator Van Hollen expressed dismay stating: “This was despite the fact that the original judgment was based on what is now known to be false testimony.”

In the 21st century, a Black man is disenfranchised of his professional achievements to accommodate the racist policies of the EU, OECD, and IMF. And it is sanctioned as legal and binding by an international Tribunal that does not recognize the due process rights of Black people.

This is documented in Senator Van Hollen’s letter that cited “overwhelming evidence” that “the Tribunal uses different judicial standards for Blacks and Whites.”

I hope that Dr. Carson, Senator Van Hollen and Rev. Jackson will bring to bear the full weight of their positions of influence to ensure justice is rendered. But I will put my wager for justice on the Global Poverty Project.

The World Bank, EU, OECD, and IMF are institutional partners of the Global Poverty Project. Would the Project’s Annual Global Citizen’s Festival in N.Y. tell Jay Z to sing his hit songs from behind the curtains because of his race and have a White performer lip-sync his hits on the Festival stage? This is what the World Bank did to Dr. Biru to spare Europeans the indignities of seeing a black man in a position of power. Dr. Biru’s case will never be resolved unless the EU, OECD and IMF pressure the World Bank to right the wrong that was done on their behalf.

Social activist artists who offer their time and talent to the Global Poverty Project such as Akon, Demi Lovato (Global Citizen Ambassador), Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, Jay Z, Bono, The Weeknd, Will-I-Am and all noble artists of moral standing should raise their voices and refuse to share the Global Citizens Festival stage with officials of these organizations until they stop using their immunity to cling to the ghosts of colonialism and apartheid.

* DR. E. FAYE WILLIAMS, Esq. is Founder and President, National Congress for Black Women.



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