AHF: Damning UNAIDS Report on Sexual Harassment Confirms Michel Sidibé Must Go

In Global Featured by Rachel Mills

The UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) will meet on December 11th to discuss the report it commissioned on credible claims of sexual abuse among U.N. staff and the subsequent botched handling of the sexual harassment investigation of senior staff at the agency.

Report, made public today, suggests the toxic environment at UNAIDS was created under Executive Director Michel Sidibé’s watch and that his negligence/mismanagement allowed it to happen. AHF calls for his dismissal, noting that as he oversaw creation of the problem, he is NOT the person to fix it.

WASHINGTON (December 7, 2018) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today calls for immediate dismissal of the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, after a report by an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) concluded the Joint Programme’s leadership has “failed to prevent or properly respond to allegations of harassment including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power in UNAIDS.”

Among the numerous findings compiled by the IEP from comprehensive interviews and surveys of UNAIDS’s employees, many point to a blatant and consistent disregard for ethical conduct and integrity by the upper management, which has allowed a toxic organizational culture of abuse and harassment to fester on Sidibé’s watch.

The IEP report in part states, “Leadership of the UNAIDS Secretariat is seen as charismatic and autocratic, making decisions based on close relationships—’like family’—rather than principles of accountable governance […] The failure of leadership to meet its responsibilities is reflected in repeated examples of favoritism, preferment, and ethical blindness.”

“This damning report vindicates the courageous women and men who stepped forward to expose the toxic environment at UNAIDS, which was created under Executive Director Michel Sidibé’s watch. It also confirms that his negligence and/or mismanagement allowed the sexual harassment and subsequent coverup to happen,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Although he did not actively make it happen, he did oversee creation of the problem, and as such, he is NOT the person to fix it. AHF is calling on UNAIDS for his immediate dismissal.”

Among the Independent Expert Panel’s key findings in its report:

 

  • “The Executive Director of the UNAIDS Secretariat has created a patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority and in his interviews with the Panel he accepted no responsibility for actions and effects of decisions and practices creating the conditions that led to this review.”
  • “…the Executive Director and leadership of UNAIDS are responsible for a culture of impunity for abuse of office, bullying, and harassment, including sexual harassment…”
  • “The Panel recommends the PCB carefully consider the condition of the organisation as found in this report and determine if the present Executive Director can continue in the role.”
  • “The Panel has no confidence that the current leadership can deliver cultural change when that leadership has been largely responsible for the current malaise.”

 

In light of the damning evidence presented by the IEP, allowing Sidibé to continue to serve as the Executive Director of UNAIDS is tantamount to a condonation of nepotism, impunity, sexual harassment, secrecy and unethical conduct – behaviors which are the antithesis of what a United Nations agency is supposed to stand for.

The report further bolsters what was already made clear by Sidibé’s mishandling and reticence to decisively act on allegation of sexual harassment against his deputy director earlier this year – it appears, maintaining his position in office is more important than fixing the crisis at UNAIDS.

During Sidibé’s 10-year tenure many of the problems that have now turned into an agency-wide crisis and resulted in a lack of confidence among many employees, could have been addressed with timely, transparent interventions. However, now the crisis has come to dominate an increasingly negative image of the Joint Programme in mass media, which further exacerbates its paralysis of action and prevents it from fully focusing on the missing of ending AIDS and serving People Living with HIV.

In a UNAIDS press release issued simultaneously with the publication of the IEP report, Sidibé says he intends to reform the agency and set it on the right track, but this is doubtful considering that his persistent rhetoric about zero-tolerance for harassment and commitment to transparency has been accompanied by behind-the-scenes attempt by the UNAIDS secretariat to suppress or delay the publication of the EIP report, as was reported by the Code Blue Campaign on December 3. UNAIDS is not likely to change course and weather the crisis of confidence without a leadership change.

It’s time for the Program Coordinating Board (PCB) of UNAIDS to put to rest the debate about Sidibe’s leadership abilities and move on with appointing a new leader, who will embody the mission and principles of UNAIDS not only in words, but in actions. The EIP report is unequivocal in its conclusion, “The Panel believes that if UNAIDS is to recover from its current malaise, a trustworthy, energetic leader should be appointed who can earn the confidence of the staff and return UNAIDS to its fundamental commitment to non-discrimination, due process, and good governance.” In the interest of everyone involved in the global AIDS response and affected by HIV/AIDS, we urge the PCB to vote on the dismissal of the current Executive Director of UNAIDS at the upcoming board meeting on December 11.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 1,000,000 individuals in 42 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare and Instagram: @aidshealthcare

 

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