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UN agency chief to step down after damning report on culture of sexual harassment

The head of the UN program tasked with fighting HIV and AIDS will step down early, after a damning external ...

Posted: Dec 14, 2018 3:34 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2018 3:34 PM

The head of the UN program tasked with fighting HIV and AIDS will step down early, after a damning external report accused him of leading an organization permissive of "sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power."

Executive Director Michel Sidibé told a meeting of the organization's governing board on Thursday that he would step down in June 2019, six months before his term was due to end. Sidibé said he wanted "an orderly transition of leadership," according to a UNAIDS press release.

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Stepping down early was a "personal decision," spokesperson Sophie Barton-Knott told CNN on Friday.

Pressure has been growing on UNAIDS, which is overseen by 22 governments and other HIV/AIDS-related organizations, since the independent report was released last week.

For months, Sidibé had been accused of mishandling harassment allegations among his staff and protecting alleged assailants -- including in exclusive CNN reporting. The report's authors made clear that they doubted he was capable of carrying out the reforms they proposed.

"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," its authors wrote.

Financial pressure, too, was growing. The Swedish government, one of the largest donors to UNAIDS, announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw all financial support until Sidibé left or was removed.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour this March, a UNAIDS employee, Martina Brostrom, accused Sidibé of offering her a promotion in exchange for dropping her claim of assault against a UN assistant secretary general, Luiz Loures.

CNN spoke at the time with two other women who described similar encounters. Loures, who denied the allegations, was cleared of wrongdoing in an investigation into Brostrom's claims. He no longer works for the UN.

Brostrom called the investigation "deeply flawed," and it has since been reopened, following an appeal and CNN's reporting, "as part of a broader investigation," but has not yet concluded.

Loures told CNN at the time that he "cooperated fully with the independent investigation and provided proof of my innocence. The claims against me were unsubstantiated."

A spokesman for UNAIDS told CNN at the time that the investigation into Brostrom's allegations followed "due process."

In an interview on Friday, Brostrom told CNN that she was "apprehensive" that Sidibé would still be allowed to remain in his post for six months.

It will "allow him to use his powers to place his boys club and to secure his people, those who have been loyal to him," she said.

The UNAIDS spokesperson, Barton-Knott, would not speculate on why he was staying on the job until June.

Yet despite any misgivings, Brostrom made clear that she was pleased that Sidibé would be leaving in June. It is "some sort of recognition for us," she said, "to allow us to heal."

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