UNAIDS Nigeria Country Director Erasmus Morah is threatening me with legal action for speaking out about sexual harassment
Statement by Vuyiseka Dubula
Tuesday, 11 September 2018: This week I received a letter by lawyers acting for UNAIDS Country Director for Nigeria Dr Erasmus Morah threatening legal action. Dr Morah was previously Country Director for South Africa.
In the legal letter Dr Morah demands a written retraction of various comments I have made regarding his behaviour toward women. Dr Morah demands that this retraction must be published on my Facebook page, on the Health-e News website, and that a copy of it should be provided to the Dean of the academic faculty where I am employed at the University of Stellenbosch.
Dr Morah then threatens that legal action will be instituted for damages should I fail to make such a retraction.
I am shocked by Dr Morah’s legal threats and will defend myself. I stand by the allegations which I made against him in his capacity as a UNAIDS leader.
The comments in question were made on Facebook and in an open letter by myself and 22 other women regarding the mishandling of allegations of sexual harassment at UNAIDS. I mentioned Dr Morah in the letter as an example of a man in a position of power at UNAIDS who has acted inappropriately and who has made a number of women feel uncomfortable. The open letter can be read here.
After consulting with my lawyer, I am confident that my comments are within my right to free speech and were fair comment. All my views were shared in the public interest – to end the gag on women. I have no intention of apologising to Dr Morah. I will not be intimidated into silence.
Independent Expert Panel looking at sexual harassment at UNAIDS. The panel had recently invited me to an interview given that I have been outspoken about the mishandling of sexual harassment at the UN agency. I will participate in the interview despite Dr Morah’s attempt to intimidate me.
The #MeToo Movement has created the space for women like me and others who have experienced inappropriate behaviour such as sexual harassment, sexual violence, bullying and abuse to speak out. I will not be silenced.
Dr Morah’s legal letter
In the interests of transparency, I reproduce the contents of the letter sent by Dr Morah’s lawyers below. By reproducing it here, I am not agreeing to Dr Morah’s version of events. In fact, the letter contains some basic and easily verifiable errors – for example, Health-e is not a publication of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute as asserted in the letter:
Dear Ms. Dubula-Majola,
The above matter refers.
We are advised and instructed by our client that you posted a blog on your Facebook page, on or about 24 April 2018, in which you publicly accused our client (formally the UNAIDS Country Director in South Africa) of being a sexual predator and a skirt chaser.
We are advised and instructed by our client that you posted a further blog on your Facebook page, on or about 25 April 2018, in which you alleged that our client met other colleagues (males) in their offices while he made and insisted on an inappropriate proposal to meet you in his hotel room (when that proposal was in fact never made) and in which blog you insinuated that it was unsafe or unwise to meet with our client in the absence of other people.
We are advised and instructed by our client that you furthermore lead the authorship of an article signed by 21 other women unknown to our client published as an open editorial on 3 May 2018 by Health E-News in which you stated that our client made a habit of sending suggestive messages to a number of women (HIV activists) and having made suggestive overtures to the said women in the past. You furthermore stated our client apparently believed he had a right to act inappropriately. You furthermore stated that our client thrived within the ranks of UNAIDS whilst embracing a culture of impunity.
The publication as envisaged by paragraph 4 above caused the New York based Inner-City Press to suggest to the deputy spokesman to the United Nations Secretary-General, Farhan Haq that our client was a sexist.
Based on a review of witness testimony, extensive email and WhatsApp exchanges, and photo and other digital records, your public comments as aforesaid are defamatory of our client.
Our client hereby demands that you cause a written retraction of the defamatory comments made of and concerning our client as aforesaid to be published on both your Facebook page, in the Health E-News Service publication of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Hilbrow, Johannesburg (the board of which is chaired by Ms. Cecilia Serenata and the Managing Editor of which is Ms. Kerry Cullinan) and for a copy of the aforesaid written retraction to be made available to Professor Ingrid Woolard, the Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University.
Our client demands that the written retraction as envisaged by paragraph 7 above be published on or before 1 October 2018, failing which our client will institute action against you, without further communication, for damages to be awarded to him pursuant to your unlawful conduct.
Our client’s rights shall remain fully reserved in the interim.”