The United Nations Secretary General has expressed his full support for the head of UNAIDS despite the reopening of an investigation into claims of sexual assault at the global agency combating the spread of HIV.
Civil society groups and individuals across Africa have called for Michel Sedibe’s ousting after claims he was involved in a cover up regarding sexual assault allegations against his deputy at the organisation.
An internal inquiry recently cleared the former deputy Executive Director Luiz Loures but claims that the internal investigation was flawed prompted the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services to reopen it.
Sedibe’s has been at the helm of the global agency since his appointment in 2008.
However, his handling of sexual harassment claims against his former deputy has led to a chorus calling for him to resign or be fired a question put the Secretary General’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric earlier this week.
“Civil society can and should express themselves freely whatever positions they want to …whatever they want to do. I’m sure there’re people and we’ve seen people calling for civil society activists on different sides of this issue concerning Mr Sedibe. What the Secretary General feels is that Michel Sedibe has done a very good job at UNAIDS, especially in fact on issues of gender and he fully supports him.”
An internal 14-month investigation cleared Loures, who has since stepped down from UNAIDS, finding no evidence to corroborate claims by employee Martina Brostrom that Loures sexually harassed her, including trying to forcibly kiss and grope her in the elevator of a hotel in Thailand during a UN Conference there in 2015.
Brostrom says it took her a year and a half to formally report the incident over fears she might be unfairly targeted and face retaliation.
Two other women have made similar claims against Loures.
Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq says, “We have taken the decision to reopen the investigation – as you know the office of international oversight services is now looking into the matter, obviously we we’ll go by whatever their conclusions are once they have gone about their work. Regarding Mr Sedibe’s leadership of UNAIDS, the position is as Stephane has expressed it and continues to be the case.”
Haq says, “We want to help all the sides of this case get to the bottom of this which is why the decision was taken to reopen this, it was felt that the previous investigation needed ultimately to have a proper follow up and that’s what we’re doing?”
When asked if he agrees with the claims against Mr Sedibe, Haq says, “This is support for Mr Sedibe and his work at UN AIDS, I can’t speculate or prejudge what the office of international oversight services will say at they look into the Loures case, they are free to do so and then we will evaluate that accordingly once they’ve done that.”
Asked for comment, UNWOMEN issued a statement saying they were heartened by the reopening of the case and expressed hope for an outcome that brings justice and accountability.
It’s unclear when the OIOS investigation would be completed but UNAIDS issued a statement Thursday calling for unity in addressing sexual harassment and gender inequality.