GENEVA: UNAIDS, under fire over a mishandled sexual assault investigation, suffers from “a broken organisational culture,” where leaders fail “to accept responsibility” and fear among staff is rampant, an expert report said on Friday (Dec 7).
The Independent Expert Report was created by UNAIDS’ oversight body following a public uproar triggered by the agency’s handling of sexual assault allegations against former deputy executive director Luiz Loures.
The findings, based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of staff surveys, said the agency tasked with coordinating the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is led by a secretariat engulfed in “a crisis which threatens its vital work”.
“The leaders, policies and processes at UNAIDS have failed to prevent or properly respond to allegations of harassment including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power in UNAIDS,” the report said.
“The evidence before the Independent Expert Panel of a broken organisational culture is overwhelming,” it added.
“The leadership of the UNAIDS Secretariat fails to accept responsibility for a culture of impunity becoming prevalent in the organisation, a culture that does not ensure a safe and dignified workplace for its staff, and one that fails to respect human rights in line with law and United Nations values,” it further said.
UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe was directly blamed for his handling of the assault allegations against his former deputy Loures, including charges that he encouraged the accuser, Martina Brostom, to drop the case even as a formal probe was ongoing.
An initial internal investigation cleared Loures of wrongdoing but a new probe has since been opened.
Responding to the panel’s findings, the agency said it was “putting in place an agenda for change to transform UNAIDS into a model working environment.”
Multiple leading civil society organisations that work on HIV/AIDS have already called on Sidibe to resign.
“The Executive Director is firmly focused on the future. He fully aware that there is a lot of work to do-across all levels of the organization-and he is determined to lead that transformation,” UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott told AFP when asked if the findings would prompt Sidibe to resign.