Dr. Caleb Otto, a Palauan physician who served as a member of the Palau Senate, Minister of Health and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Palau to the United Nations passed away Sunday morning, he was 75.
Several Palauan politicians, officials and individuals from here and outside of Palau took time to make statements describing Otto as a “great man” and shared them via social media.
Otto’s public service in Palau and the Pacific spanned decades with wide-ranging experience in health and policy development.
Dr. Otto served in the 7th Olbiil Era Kelulau (OEK) as one of the lawmakers and one of founders of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Palau.
He was the leading voice representing Palau in the negotiation for the world’s first public health treaty Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that earned him a World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Award in 2003.
He also championed FCTC’s inclusion in the SDGs and won the Nigel Gray award in 2007.
Dr. Otto also was a staunch advocate of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Palau and was the lead author of the first report of its implementation, which he presented before the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1998.
He also championed for human rights and a great supporter for two UN Conventions that Palau is a party to, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Convention on the Rights of People with Disability CRPD.
He was also instrumental in the local and global advocacy on the Implementation of the Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as the means to ensure the rights of infants to breastmilk, Women’s rights under CEDAW and rights of the Indigenous People, including protection of traditional and cultural heritage.
During his stint in the United Nations, Dr. Otto spoke about climate change, health of oceans and seas, formulation of strategies for conservation and protection of biodiversity.
Dr. Otto was a finalist in the Seafood Champion Awards in 2017 by Seaweb for his work at the United Nations for calling attention to ocean sustainability issues and human and environmental threats to livelihoods that depend on the ocean.
At the UN, Dr. Otto also advocated for availability and access to water as matter of human rights, also highlighted the need for peaceful and stable society, grounded on tolerance, acceptance and understanding,
As Palau’s former envoy to the UN, he also talked about the importance of discussing mental health more widely in order to reduce the stigmas, and to treat mental health disorders like any other disease.
Former Vice President and Minister of Health Sandra Pierantozzi said in a Facebook comment that Dr. Otto is not only known for his work in Palau but throughout the Pacific.
“We will miss this great person who worked tirelessly for the good of many, especially giving his relentless fight for the good of our public health,” Pierantozzi stated.
Palau Ambassador to the United States Hersey Kyota in a facebook comment said, “Rest In Peace Ambassador Otto. Palau and the Pacific will never be the same without you. Your legacy will live on. Thank you so much.”
Margo Lazaro, President and Chair of the NGO Committee of Sustainable Development in New York posted on her Facebook timeline.
“My Heartfelt Condolences go to Judy Buster Otto & your Family together with our thoughts & prayers on the passing of Dr. Caleb Otto former Ambassador & Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Palau to the UN. He was a good friend & colleague who was always ready to support our initiatives through partnership and stakeholder engagement for the SDGs. He was a champion for Mental Health issues & changes. May Caleb Rest in Eternal Peace.”
Villany Remengesau, President of the Belau Association of Non-Governmental Organizations said that Dr. Otto also worked closely with the NGOs in Palau and drafting the Palau Disability Act.
“Thank you for your support to KLTANG, which is now organized as BANGO. Still remembering those good moments and our work with you back on 2003 in Bali for Health Ministers Meeting on Children. Thanks so much for everything,” Remengesau said on her Facebook timeline.
Dr. Otto was also active with family in sports events like swimming and tennis.
His close friends also remembered him as a great mentor to many Palauans in the health profession. (Bernadette Carreon)