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

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–(BUSINESS WIRE)–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 favouritism, 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 mission 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 IEP
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 Sidibé’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 IEP 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

Contacts

MEDIA CONTACTS:
WASHINGTON
John Hassell, National
Director of Advocacy, AHF
+1.202.774.4854 [cell] John.hassell@aidshealth.org

LOS ANGELES
Ged Kenslea, Senior Director, Communications, AHF
+1.323.791.5526
[cell] +.323.308.1833 [work] gedk@aidshealth.org

Denys Nazarov, Director of Global Policy & Communication for AHF
+1(323)
533-9842 [cell] denys.nazarov@aidshealth.org

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