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Indian official at UN accused of sexual misconduct by 8 men, under investigation

An investigation is currently underway against the official, and the United Nations has “a job of work to do” to reform its culture and restore trust, a spokesperson of the organisation said.

world Updated: Aug 09, 2018 21:59 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
UN gender and youth official,Sexual misconduct,United Nations
Karkara is the senior adviser to Lakshmi Puri, former deputy executive director at Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. (AFP file photo)

An Indian official of the United Nations’ body working for the empowerment of women has been accused of sexual misconduct by eight men and is under investigation for the allegations.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women or UN Women, however, refused to share details of the case.

“We cannot confirm nor deny the subject’s name and we cannot comment on any specifics of the case, as that could harm the investigation and disciplinary process,” it said.

US magazine Newsweek has identified the official as Ravi Karkara, a senior advisor, and said he had worked for Lakshmi Puri, an Indian diplomat who was formerly the assistant secretary-general for intergovernmental support and strategic partnerships at UN Women.

The United Nations indirectly confirmed the details of the case as reported by Newsweek.

“I would not dispute any of the information contained in the Newsweek article. I can confirm that the individual from UN Women has been under investigation,” Farhan Haq, a UN spokesperson, said in response to an email request for confirmation of the official’s identity as mentioned in the article and if he was under investigation.

Haq did not name the official or the person he worked for.

The investigation is being conducted by the Office of Audit and Investigations (OAI) of UN Development Plan and is nearing completion, according to the UN Women. No charges have been filed yet of any kind.

The official continues to be on the payrolls of the world body but has been on administrative leave. He is an Indian national but not an Indian government official or a diplomat at the Indian permanent mission to the UN.

“Since the proceedings are still internal to the UN and relate to an international civil servant who is not an Indian diplomat the Indian Mission has not been kept informed of the developments in the UN’s internal investigation,” said a diplomat at the Indian mission on the background.

Newsweek identified Karkara citing an activist and an alleged victim, whose complaint led to the investigation. It said the official is accused by at least eight men of using his official prestige and position to sexually harass them.

The Guardian, the British daily, reported independently that sources who worked closely with Karkara alleged that the official “abused his position of power to take advantage of young people who feared speaking out against the honour of an organisation they aspired to be a part of”.

Neither publication was able to get a reaction from Karkara. The Hindustan Times is trying to reach him and has requested UN Women, his current employer, for his contact details.

The Newseek went on to add, citing sources and activists who had spoken to one of the victims, that the official had groped a male subordinate, sent them links to pornography, used sexually suggestive language in conversations and used his official position to set up sexual encounters.

Steve Lee, a 25-year-old policy activist, is the victim whose complaint triggered the investigation. He spoke on the record, the publication said, in the hope that the world body would do more to combat this kind of abuse and improve hiring practices.

Lee first met Karkara in 2009 as a 16-year-old delegate to the UNICEF and the two would meet several times more. For one of them, on December 1, 2016, Lee drove from Ottawa to Montreal to meet the official in his hotel room, where, he told the publication, Karkara “grabbed Lee by his genitals through his pants”.

“He does this with a lot of young men, and I don’t really think it’s sexual favours he’s looking for. He enjoys the fact that he’s at a position of such high authority that he can do this and they can’t really do anything about it,” Lee told Newsweek.

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 15:17 IST