A UN worker has called for the resignation of Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, following his handling of sexual harassment allegations.
UNAIDS employee Martina Brostrom said Sidibe had created a ‘boys club’ culture within the agency, and covered up an allegation of sexual assault she made against UN assistant general secretary Dr Luiz Loures.
She said: ‘I would say that it’s a sexist culture where women are more window dressing than recognised for their performance.
‘There’s a trade and expectation to trade sexual favours for promotions and other advancements. Women don’t have or enjoy the same opportunities because of their gender.
‘In terms of the executive director, his behaviour and mannerisms are in the boys club.’
UNAIDS employee Martina Brostrom (pictured main) called for the resignation of Michel Sidibe for ‘covering up’ an allegation of sexual assault she made against UN official Dr Luiz Loures
Alongside calls for Sidibe (pictured) to resign, the Aids Healthcare Foundation pleaded for Theresa May to table the resignation, along with meaningful reform of UN policies towards sexual harassment allegations, on the agenda for a board meeting in Geneva next month
Alongside calls for Sidibe to resign, the Aids Healthcare Foundation pleaded for Theresa May to table the resignation, along with meaningful reform of UN policies towards sexual harassment allegations, on the agenda for a board meeting in Geneva next month.
The UK’s Department for International Development chairs the Programme Coordinating Board for UNAIDS.
Ms Brostrom said: ‘We are calling for the UK government to act. We call for the Department for International Development (DFID) to act in its capacity as chair of the programme coordinating board (PCB) which oversees UNAIDS to place on the agenda on the upcoming PCB meeting which is to be held in June this year in Geneva two points.
‘First the removal of Mr Sidibe and secondly the comprehensive reforms of programme policies and practices for sexual harassment.’
Ms Brostrom claims she was assaulted in a lift in 2015 by 61-year-old Dr Loures, who retired in April this year.
She said that she has recently been informed an investigation into the allegations has been re-opened for a second time. A previous investigation found her claims ‘unsubstantiated’.
Ms Brostrom also claims the UNAIDS administration had disclosed her medical records without her consent to look into her diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, which has her signed off from work.
Ms Brostrom claims she was assaulted in a lift in 2015 by 61-year-old Dr Loures (pictured), who retired in April this year
Ms Brostrom (left and right) also claims the UNAIDS administration had disclosed her medical records without her consent to look into her diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, which has her signed off from work
Prashanti Tiwari, a former UN Population Fund sub-contractor in India, said that this was a standard response by UN agencies in the wake of sexual harassment allegations.
Ms Tiwari says that she faced ‘aggressive retaliation’ and ‘character assassination’ by the UN Population Fund after she made an allegation of assault against the Country Head in India, Diego Palacios.
She claims he would grope her at every opportunity and offered to give her a promotion if she slept with him.
The womens’ rights advocate said senior officials enjoyed ‘blatant misogyny’ at the organisation.
She said: ‘These cases are pervasive and epidemic yet there is a culture of silence about it.
‘In the first quarter of 2018 almost around 54 young girls and women, many under-18, reported sexual assaults, misconduct and harassment at the hands of the UN – UN personnel and UN staff who actually claim to be the moralist, the principled and gender-friendly staff.
‘I have no grudges against UN and the principles that it holds but the way the UN has been tackling these cases and the way sexual harassment cases are pervasive raises some serious questions into the entire organisation.
‘Today the UN has become verily a medieval and feudalist structure drawing its strengths primarily from archaic and antiquated policies which need to be changed.
‘When I confronted Diego Palacios the entire mind of the UN came crushing into me to completely silence me on the entire issue.
Ms Brostom said that she has recently been informed an investigation into the allegations has been re-opened for a second time. A previous investigation found her claims ‘unsubstantiated’
‘I faced aggressive retaliation at their hands. Before they could even start the investigation and before they set up any formal complaint or review committee they outrightly claimed that my allegations were baseless and false.
‘Although I survived the sexual assault, when I raised my voice equally traumatising was the experience of raising my voice.
‘Because then I was subject to aggressive retaliation, character assassination, they started questioning my chastity. They demeaned me they defamed me they libelled me.
‘After they shattered me and broke me down completely I was ready for another emotional and mental breakdown at the hands of the UN and this happens to every woman who raises their voice against the UN.’
Ms Tiwari said that as a result of diplomatic immunity, national police forces are unable to carry out their own investigations into allegations of sexual offences.
It effectively places a ‘gag rule’ on witnesses, who may only give evidence as part of the internal UN investigations.
Ms Brostrom said member states of the UN needed to lobby for external oversight of the internal UN investigations, which are believed by workers to have a higher burden of proof in sexual harassment and assault cases than most judicial systems.
Pictured: Press conference where the AIDS Healthcare Foundation calls for UK government to act on UNAIDS sexual harassment cover-up scandal on Wednesday
She said: ‘This means the UN wouldn’t be able to influence processes and would allow for fair objective and hopefully more rapid investigations.’
Anna Zakowicz, deputy bureau chief of the Aids Healthcare Foundation said: ‘We are here today to support these and other great women who came forward seeking justice from international agencies charged with safeguarding and saving the lives of individuals around the globe.
‘The issue of reform of agency leadership in UNAIDS is so important – this is not simply about individual men and women involved in these particular cases this is about setting and honouring standards that are and can be readily understood as above reproach on the world stage.
‘Comprehensive reform is needed in many agencies.’
South African feminist, activist and academic Vuyiseka Dubuka said: ‘From our side as African women who have been leading the HIV response in Africa, we feel that the UNAIDS response especially in the recent complaints against sexual harassment not just the response but also leadership has been inadequate.
‘It says a lot about Michel’s leadership in his lack of protection of complainants and in ending the culture of impunity that is in question
‘We are calling for reformed process and policy with protection of future and even current complainants. With Michel as the current executive director we have significant doubts that he won’t be able to lead that form because he is already not able to lead that reform.
‘We want a reformed UNAIDS and that means basically that we need leadership thats able to lead it in the direction we need it to. We don’t want anyone restoring lack of legitimacy. There’s a lot of error that Michel did in handling these cases and we don’t want him to stay.’