Report exposes bullying, harassment and abuse at UNAIDS
An independent commissioned following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by senior staff at UNAIDS has been released telling a story of patriarchy, harassment and abuse of authority.
At the centre of it all is UNAIDS head Michel Sidibe.
The full report is here:
The report is titled: “Report on the work of the Independent Expert
Panel on Prevention of and response to harassment, including sexual
harassment; bullying and abuse of power at UNAIDS Secretariat”
Spotlight will report in more detail in the coming days, but these are some of the highlights from the recommendations.
1. In light of the Panel’s conclusion that 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 that the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) take urgent actions to ensure a safe and respectful workplace.
2. Decide if the Executive Director can continue in the role
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.
3. The Panel has no confidence that the current leadership can
deliver cultural change when that leadership has been largely
responsible for the current malaise. The Panel believes that for the
recommendations to be genuinely implemented and UNAIDS to regain a
culture of dignity and respect, a change in leadership has become
4. The Executive Director has publicly accepted that the UNAIDS
Secretariat has a problem that requires a solution. He initiated the
setting up of this Panel and other actions which he considers will go
towards the failure to respond adequately to allegations of abuse of
office, bullying and harassment. The Panel finds the solutions
proposed by the UNAIDS Executive Director are superficial and
insufficient. Moreover, these solutions demonstrate a lack of insight
into the magnitude of the problems and his own responsibility for
them. Our inevitable conclusion from the review is that the state in
which we find the organisational culture of UNAIDS is something for
which the leadership of the organisation must be responsible and held
5. The leadership of UNAIDS has enabled a culture of preferment,
non-transparency and circumvention of process, and permitted a work
environment that allows abuse of office, bullying and harassment. The
measures necessary to recover from the current situation, and
to implement a genuinely open culture in which harassment, bullying and
abuse of power of all sorts are removed from UNAIDS and not tolerated
again, must move swiftly forward with humility, acceptance of
responsibility and credibility.
6. Recondition the leadership team
The PCB should consider placing a freeze on new senior-level
appointments, especially that of the Deputy Executive Director, until
it makes the leadership decision. All new leadership appointments
should be influenced by the findings in this report, especially a
strong consideration for gender equality in all leadership appointments.
7. Change at the top that resets the tone and behavioural
expectations will have a big impact but will not be sufficient to
address profound cultural and systemic problems within UNAIDS.
The leadership team (‘Cabinet’) is in turmoil. One Deputy Executive
Director post is vacant, and the other recently-appointed Deputy
Executive Director has not yet had a fair chance to take hold of
matters. The Human Resources Director position will soon be vacant
upon a retirement. The Cabinet has perhaps been smaller and more
insular than it should be. A new Executive Director will want to make
the appointments they think necessary to move forward.
The PCB may consider reviewing the senior leadership structure in its
totality to ensure that all posts and post-holders are appropriately
qualified to lead the required changes.
Spotlight has been reporting on this issue since the outset.
Here is a letter a Group of 23 women, known at the G23 wrote, calling for Sidibe to set aside. This same group of women stood up the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam earlier this year. They stood up at Sidibe took the stage, read a statement and walked out with many delegates cheering and following them.
Health-e and Spotlight also reported on threats by now suspended UNAIDS Nigeria Country Director Erasmus Morah to sue South African HIV activist and academic Vuyiseka Dubula unless she apologises for calling him “a sexual predator and a skirt chaser”. Read the article here.
Dubula issued a statement in response as well as the G23. “As African women who are members of civil society organisations that advocate for social justice, and as co-signatories on the letter Morah claims defamed him, we stand alongside Vuyiseka Dubula and all women who choose to speak out about sexual harassment, abuse and violence. Now, more than ever, it is important that we stand up to those who would prefer us to be silent,” the women said.
Spotlight also published damning information during the Amsterdam conference from Paula Donovan. Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign. Donovan has been a tireless campaigner, highlight the reported abuse at UNAIDS, now highlighted in the report. Donovan also wrote that according to leaked information about UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe’s correspondence with McKinsey and Company, 2018 will mark the beginning of the end of UNAIDS: the embattled leader has hatched a plot to begin dismantling the agency as soon as this year. Donovan’s information is already being confirmed with several sources telling Spotlight that there are discussions for UNAIDS to be absorbed by the World Health Organisation. Activists are mobisling to resist such moves.