AMSTERDAM, Netherlands --
The former head of the world's chemical weapons regulatory body was wrongly dismissed last year at the insistence of the U.S. government, according to a ruling at the International Labor Organization in Geneva.
Jose Mauricio Bustani was voted out of office as director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in April 2002, after Washington accused him of mismanagement and rallied other countries in a vote to have him dismissed.
At the time, Bustani's supporters said Washington wanted him removed not because he performed poorly, but because he supported making Iraq a member of the OPCW, which might have interfered with U.S. plans for war in Iraq.
The International Labor Organization, a U.N. body charged with arbitrating labor disputes at the United Nations and other international institutions, said that Bustani was improperly dismissed and awarded him $56,700 in damages to be paid by the organization.
The ruling was issued Wednesday but not publicly released.
In a copy of the July 16 decision obtained by The Associated Press, the court said Bustani was not given a fair opportunity to respond to Washington's charges, which it qualified as "extremely vague." It said the lack of due process in his dismissal was "an unacceptable violation of the principle on which international organizations' activities are founded, by rendering officials vulnerable to pressures and to political change."
It said that while the United States had followed procedures, Bustani should have had a chance to defend himself in a court free of political pressures.
The OPCW is charged with ridding the world of chemical weapon stockpiles and production facilities. It has 153 member countries, including the world's two largest possessors of chemical weapons, the United States and Russia. Member countries are subject to inspections of weapons and chemicals banned under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
If OPCW chemical weapons inspectors had gone to Iraq and, like U.N. weapons inspectors, failed to find banned chemical weapons, it could have hurt the Bush Administration's case for war.
Officials at the organization were not immediately available for comment.
Bustani's firing came one year after he was unanimously re-elected by the organization's member countries, including the United States, for a second four-year term. At the time, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised his leadership qualities in a personal letter.
In February 2002, The U.S. government began lobbying to have Bustani removed, saying he had not performed his job properly. However, government representatives declined to detail allegations of mismanagement, abuse of power and "destruction of staff morale." Bustani always denied wrongdoing.
Bustani called the ruling a "great relief," telling The Associated Press that he would donate the damages he won to an international cooperation program at the OPCW, based in The Hague, Netherlands.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press