Report exposes bullying, harassment and abuse at UNAIDS

Report exposes bullying, harassment and abuse at UNAIDSMichel Sidibe. Pic by The Citizen

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.