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article imageUNAIDS whistleblower condemns new sex assault probe

By Ben Simon (AFP)     Jun 25, 2018 in World

A whistleblower who says she was sexually assaulted by a UNAIDS executive cast fresh doubt Monday on an investigation into her case and called for the agency chief to be sacked.

Martina Brostrom, who remains a UNAIDS staffer but is on medical leave, has said she was sexually harassed and assaulted by former deputy executive director Luiz Loures in Thailand in 2015.

An initial internal inquiry cleared Loures of wrongdoing but the case was reopened following heavy criticism of the decision.

Loures, who has denied the allegations and had diplomatic immunity at the time, has retired from the United Nations.

A day before a major UNAIDS board meeting with donors where a reform package on tackling harassment is due to be discussed, Brostrom blasted the new probe.

"My assailant has left the UN system with full retirement benefits," she told reporters in Geneva.

"He cannot be investigated by the UN and there can be no consequences for his action," she added.

In an April 27 letter seen by AFP, UNAIDS informed Brostrom that it would reopen her case following advice from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The letter said the new probe would be conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York.

Two months later, Brostrom said she has received no information about the scope of the investigation.

"I know nothing more than you do," she said, calling for a fully independent inquiry that focuses in part on the role played by UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe.

In an email, UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott told AFP that the agency "decided to reopen the original investigation of sexual harassment as part of a broader investigation in light of additional allegations beyond those initially investigated."

Since Brostrom came forward earlier this year, multiple other women have accused Loures of harassment and sexual assault, including one who has spoken publicly about her experience.

Barton-Knott did not explain whether Loures could face any UN punishment despite having resigned, but said the "investigation is being conducted because the original complaint was made against a serving staff member."

- Agency chief criticised -

Sidibe has been accused by activists of sheltering powerful male officials accused of wrongdoing and other ethical breaches while trying to protect his and the agency's reputation.

Sidibe was also reprimanded in the initial probe for trying to settle Brostrom's case quietly even as an official investigation was ongoing.

And he was heard fiercely criticising whistleblowers in a leaked recording of a staff meeting.

Multiple HIV/AIDS organisations including the world's largest -- the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) -- have called for Sidibe to resign on grounds that he cannot lead the global AIDS response given his dubious record on standing up for alleged victims of sexual assault.

AHF is now working with Brostrom in pushing for reform at UNAIDS.

"It will be very bad for the AIDS movement if Michel Sidibe does not step down," AHF's advocacy and policy chief, Terri Ford, told reporters.

Brostrom called on the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board -- essentially the agency's governors -- to "dismiss" Sidibe when it meets on Tuesday.

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