Today in New Delhi, India
Dec 12, 2018-Wednesday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

UNAIDS chief under pressure after sex abuse allegation against staff

Michel Sidibe faces allegations of sheltering powerful men accused of wrongdoing, including former deputy executive director Luiz Loures, whom two women have publicly accused of sexual assault.

world Updated: Apr 19, 2018 13:01 IST
Press Trust of India, Geneva
UNAIDS,sex abuse,United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
Global civil society groups have called for UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe to step down.(Picture for representation)

It started with sexual assault allegations against a male UNAIDS executive and a heavily-criticised internal investigation that exonerated the accused. And now, the crisis involving accusations against former deputy executive director Luiz Loures has spread, raising pressure on the overall head of the organisation.

Michel Sidibe, a Malian national who took charge of the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in 2009, is under fire from current and former colleagues as well as civil society groups, who have raised questions about his leadership.

He faces allegations of sheltering powerful men accused of wrongdoing, including Loures, whom two women have publicly accused of sexual assault. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest HIV/AIDS organisation, has called for Sidibe’s resignation and said that without substantive reform, UNAIDS should be disbanded.

UNAIDS did not answer a detailed set of questions submitted by AFP.

In an email, agency spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott noted that Sidibe had put in place a “five point plan to prevent and address all forms of harassment within UNAIDS”. The plan is one of several initiatives launched by the UN, including a new hotline, to address sexual harassment amid the global #metoo movement.

Loures left the agency last month.

As well as the two women to accuse him publicly, others have spoken anonymously about him to multiple media outlets. AFP is not aware of any legal proceedings under way in support of any of the accusations.

One accuser is Malayah Harper, who worked at the agency for a decade and is now the general secretary of the World Young Women’s Christian Association. In an interview with AFP in Geneva, she said the problems extended far beyond Loures.

“It comes down to leadership and what you allow to happen, which sets the culture of the organisation,” said Harper, who held country director posts in Africa as well as a senior headquarters role.

She became visibly distressed as she recounted an ordeal in an African country during which a male colleague bullied and intimidated her and other women, including publicly and by using sexually-demeaning language.

She said she informed senior management and the head of Sidibe’s executive office about the situation but received “no answer” or action. Then, Harper said, the individual threatened to kill her, which triggered a UNAIDS internal investigation and increased security at her residence.

She said she never saw the outcome of the probe and that the individual was transferred and promoted to a country director position elsewhere on the continent.

“Whether it’s bullying and intimidation or sexual harassment... I can think of many cases where women have raised alarm, but I can’t think of a single case where any action was taken,” Harper said.

The other woman to publicly accuse Loures of assault is Martina Brostrom, who remains a UNAIDS employee on medical leave.

The World Health Organisation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (IOS) investigated the alleged 2015 assault and cleared Loures, but the probe has been severely criticised by civil society groups and legal experts.

First Published: Apr 19, 2018 13:01 IST