Closed-door process clears UN official of sexual assault
5 February 2018
Secretary-General of the United Nations
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
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We raise a matter of utmost importance.
On Tuesday 6 February, you are scheduled to have a meeting with Mr. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. We of course don’t know what is on the agenda, but we emphatically know what should be on the agenda.
Last week, the case of sexual assault and sexual harassment against Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, was closed. Every allegation was judged “unsubstantiated.” The case cries out for review; it was grossly mishandled. Indeed, Mr. Sidibé must explain how he took it upon himself to make the final decision to dismiss the case. He himself was questioned by investigators regarding allegations of his intrusion in the case. When the claimant’s lawyer challenged the evident conflict of interest between Mr. Sidibé’s designation as a witness and his role in convening the three-member Global Advisory Committee of his own staff that would act as “jury,” he recused himself and designated a subordinate. And yet, he thought it appropriate to render judgment. Mr. Secretary-General, you are confronted by a gross miscarriage of justice.
There is no conjecture in what we say. Mr. Sidibé issued a press release announcing the closure of the case, and describing the internal process: “The final decision-maker in such matters is the UNAIDS Executive Director.” It is one of the wretched ironies of this case that the investigators found it necessary, in four of the eleven paragraphs summarizing their findings, to state how perplexed they were by the words and actions of Mr. Sidibé.
In saying that, we reveal that we have reviewed material related to the grave allegations made against Luiz Loures. We make no apologies for the receipt of the material. Nor do we apologize for drawing attention to that material in this letter. Indeed, Mr. Secretary-General, we reserve hope that if you were to review the documents germane to the Loures case, you would conclude that allegations of this nature must be handled by an external, neutral, and independent body. Indeed, you might wish to ask for all the documents before they hit the public arena.
Why do we feel compelled to come forward in this way? Because, Mr. Secretary-General, we are called upon to do so. There is such fear throughout the UN system over possible job loss and retaliation that most women who are victimized, and staff who object to the treatment of those who do come forward, are driven into silence. Indeed, the case at hand is a textbook example of aggressive retaliation. Every other institution called to account through the movement sparked by #MeToo is rushing to give survivors the benefit of the doubt; only in the United Nations are the victims hounded into resignation and despair.
In this case, the facts point to a double assault—the first by a high-level assailant, and the second by a so-called investigation. We believe that truth will out, and justice will follow.
Mr. Secretary-General, the work we have done through our Code Blue Campaign has taught us that when it comes to sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation, it is impossible to have faith in the system. Just look at the instance of Ms. Jan Beagle, your recently appointed Under-Secretary-General for Management. She was Deputy Executive Director for Human Resources and Management at UNAIDS while the very case at hand was being mangled: nary a word of intervention. Now you have put her in charge of a new internal task force on sexual harassment made up of senior leaders. What are UN staff, and the world’s public, to deduce from such “leadership”?
Various investigations are well underway by major media outlets. Other reporting will follow when the promise of anonymity and trust emboldens more victims, past and present, to speak of sexual harassment within the entities of the UN organization. UNAIDS is merely the harbinger of what’s to come. We know from our discussions with the media that they give short shrift to distinctions between the Secretariat, funds and programmes on the one hand, and specialized agencies on the other. You, sir, speak to the world on behalf of the entire UN organization. This is an issue that stops at your desk.
We offer, as always, to meet with you and set out our proposed, constructive solution. We know that, as always, you will not grant such a meeting. More’s the pity. Women around the world now have zero tolerance for institutional damage control. You have an opportunity to intervene in this instance and lead by example.
Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis
Co-Directors, AIDS-Free World
Gill Mathurin, Director of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1-646-924-1710