GENEVA: 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.
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.