“UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé is putting himself above the mission of ending AIDS by running a costly PR campaign to keep his post despite calls for him to step down,” says AHF.
NEW YORK CITY (June 20, 2018) Civil society advocates protested today in New York City outside the United Nations headquarters calling for action on the leadership crisis at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) following a botched investigation of sexual harassment allegations against the agency’s senior leadership. In conjunction with the demonstration, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) appealed in an open letter to the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley to put pressure on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to resolve the protracted scandal by dismissing UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
Women’s rights groups worldwide have intensified calls for Sidibé’s resignation or dismissal since news broke of his attempts to cover up sexual harassment allegations against his former deputy and interfering with the subsequent investigation. Since then, he has doubled down on his efforts to remain in his position by threatening UNAIDS staff from coming forward with future claims of abuse and mounted a costly PR campaign to garner public support.
Senior UNAIDS staffer Martina Brostrom, who was the target of sexual assault at the hands of Michel Sidibé’s former deputy, supports the protest in New York. She is very grateful to AHF and all the advocates who believe her and are fighting for her and other sexual harassment/assault victims within the UNAIDS system. “I fail to understand how the UN can claim they have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and yet take no action against sexual predators and those who condone them. My experience in UNAIDS exemplifies how the UN does plenty of talking but does not walk the walk,” said Ms. Brostrom from Geneva.
“Reform is needed throughout the UN, but the situation at UNAIDS has come to a breaking point,” said Terri Ford, AHF Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy. “It requires a special kind of trust from people—and especially from women, who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS around the world—for the UNAIDS mission to succeed. Secretary-General Guterres needs to start rebuilding the reputation of UNAIDS and bring this scandal to a close by appointing a new executive director and initiating comprehensive reforms of the program with independent oversight.”
The New York demonstration is the latest in a series of similar actions that have been conducted in major cities around the world over recent months, including Nairobi, New Delhi, Johannesburg, London and Mexico City. The UNAIDS scandal has received significant coverage from mainstream media including CNN, The Guardian, The Independent, Al Jazeera, Daily Mail and others. Other UNAIDS donor countries such as the UK and the Netherlands have also been requested to intervene amidst the inaction of the current UN administration.
“UNAIDS culture needs to change dramatically and that transformation can’t happen without a change in leadership,” said John Hassell, AHF National Director of Advocacy and a former UNAIDS Country Programme Coordinator. “Taxpayer funds that pay for UNAIDS should be dedicated to leading the global HIV response, not a publicity campaign to save someone’s position.”