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Amid UNAIDS #MeToo, ICP Asks UN About Sidibe's Retaliation Threats, For OIOS Mendoza Q&A

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video here, Vine here

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says he has a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual harassment, and for retaliation. But when Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq on March 15 about Michel Sidibé's reported threats of retaliatory investigations against those making and offering support to sexual harassment complaints at UNAIDS, Haq said this is entire a matter for UNAIDS. Earlier Inner City Press story here; exclusive publication of whistleblowers' international condemnation of retaliation and favoritism in Sidibe's UNAIDS, below. On May 10 after yet more calls for Sidibe to be gone from UNAIDS, Inner City Press again asked Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who repeated praise for Sidibe, on gender equity in hiring. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: I'll bet that you've seen 23 prominent activists on sexual harassment have asked that Mr. Michel Sidibé be removed of his powers at UNAIDS, and they describe having met…  tried to meet with him, receiving what they've considered by this Erasmus Morah, who's the head of UNAIDS in Nigeria, as sort of what they considered an offensive request to a f… as a fair lady to protect Michel.

And I'm just wondering, you've said a number of times from this podium that the Secretary-General fully supports Michel Sidibé and what he's done at UNAIDS.  Is this…  does this remain the case?  Does he support what these 23 activists are describing as essentially a sexist campaign to… to rally around Michel Sidibé and… and what's his response given all that you've said about…

Spokesman:  Look, civil society can and should express themselves freely in whatever positions they want to, whatever they want to do.  Like, I'm sure there are people who… I mean, we've seen people calling for civil society activists on different sides of this issue concerning Mr. Sidibé.

What the Secretary-General feels is that Michel Sidibé has done a very good job at UNAIDS, especially, in fact, on issues of gender, and he fully supports him." The next day May 11 Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq some more, including about OIOS. From the UN's May 11 transcript: Inner City Press: Beyond the reopening and… and whatever… you know, OIOS's reinvestigation of the Loures case, there was the widely reported speech by Mr. Sidibé to staff, saying Mr. Loures is a great man and those of you who come out against him will be investigated.  This was reported in The Guardian with direct quotes, and I guess, I think… I wanted to ask you, totally outside… is OIOS looking at threats of retaliation attributed to Mr. Sidibé by many participants in that meeting in an article published in The Guardian, and what is… Mr. [António] Guterres as the head of the system, does he believe that was a speech that's consistent with the non-retaliation principles that he espouses?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's up to OIOS to determine.  The Office of Internal Oversight Services determines what they'll look into.  I'll leave that matter in their hands.  Regarding the ability of people to speak out obviously, the Secretary-General believes that all staff of all the UN bodies have the right to speak out if they feel that there has been any sort of wrongdoing, and that they shouldn't feel silenced or impeded in any way.

Inner City Press:  But, if the Secretary-General is sort of… if you've just said that he'll… he's… obviously will defer to the OIOS's findings, does he understand what the scope of the review is?  Is the review of the… of the… the abuse alleged by Mr. Loures, or is it of a speech after Mr. Loures was cleared by Mr. Sidibé to staff?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, like I said, it's up to the Office of Internal Oversight Services itself to determine what avenues it wishes to pursue.  We'll provide information about the investigation once addition once it's completed.  ... Inner City Press: I guess it's just a request to have Heidi Mendoza, I don't think, has done a press conference since she's been head of OIOS, and previous heads of OIOS have done this, so could you consider this a request that she, both on this this issue and generally on the work of OIOS, have a press conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  I mean, I know from past experiences with past heads of OIOS, that they tend not to comment on ongoing cases, but yes, we can make a request for her to do a briefing." 
n May 4 the UN bragged about a statement by its Chief Executives Board, which includes none other than Michel Sidibe: "CEB Statement on Addressing Sexual Harassment within the Organizations of the UN System  - Sexual harassment results from a culture of discrimination and privilege, based on unequal gender relations and power dynamics. It has no place in the United Nations system. Leaders of UN System organizations reiterate our firm commitment to uphold a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment; to strengthen victim-centred prevention and response efforts; and to foster a safe and inclusive working environment." We'll have more on this. O
n April 30 the Guardian's  Rebecca Ratcliffe reports that "Miriam Maluwa, who has worked for the UN for more than 25 years, was placed on administrative leave from her post as country director for UNAids in Ethiopia on 27 March." On April 30, Inner City Press asked Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric about Maluwa and more about the Luiz Loures case, and WFP in Fiji. Video here. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press:  at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS], one of the complainants against Luiz Loures has been suspended from heading the Ethiopia office of UNAIDS and told not to go back into the office.  Many people see it as exactly the retaliation that was promised in Mr. [Michel] Sidibé’s speech to staff, saying that he will investigate all accusers.  What does António Guterres think of this suspension?

Spokesman:  We're aware of the issue.  Our understanding is that this is completely unrelated, but questions should be directed at UNAIDS.

Inner City Press: And also, just, I guess, in terms of the… the extent of this problem within the UN system, over the weekend, it emerged and I'm wondering if you can… will confirm and have… if he has anything to say on it, that there are sexual harassment complaints about… in Fiji on… at UN World Food Programme (WFP).  And have the staff been suspended?  And does the Secretary-General believe that, in such cases, staff should be suspended?  And what's the timeline for an investigation?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that WFP's fully aware and is starting the procedures.  I think WFP, under the leadership of the new Executive Director, has been extremely forward-leaning on these issues.  They will handle them according to procedures.  I'm not going to get into detail, because I'm not aware of the details in the investigation.

Inner City Press: 
But is there a UN-wide policy under António Guterres of suspending… suspending pending investigation…?

Spokesman:  I think each case… I think cases vary.  One of the things that we're looking at the CEB is, obviously, some harmonization and understanding across the system.  But, obviously, each… especially when it comes to specialized agencies have their own governing body and their own rules and regulations... 

Inner City Press: just one more on UNAIDS, and then I have some other stuff, but I'm sure you've seen that… that Ms. [Cristina] Brostrom, the… the alleged victim in the Luiz Loures case has written to say that she entirely rejects the re-opening and has no confidence in it.  I'm just wondering, is there a UN response?  She's also said…

Spokesman:  Well, I think… go ahead.

Inner City Press: No, no.  She's said that a toothless UN investigation could impact her ability to pursue the case outside of the system, so she act… is actively requesting that this not take place and views it as a cover-up.  What's your response?

Spokesman:  Well, I think my response is in what I just read, which is — and I'll read it again — that the complainant called for an investigation to be conducted by an external independent investigation entity outside of the UN.  The General Assembly, as you know, has mandated OIOS to have operational independence to conduct investigations.  OIOS has been requested to conduct it and re-open the investigation by WHO.  They've agreed to do so.  I think we are all hoping that… we all want to see what comes out of this re-opened investigation." The UN is failing.
n April 16, mid growing requests for Sidibe to resign, Inner City Press asked Guterres' led spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who reiterated Guterres has full confidence in Sidibe. So much for zero tolerance. Video here, UN transcript here: Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you about UNAIDS.  As I'm sure you've seen, a number of… a number of groups have asked for an investigation, but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which does work on AIDS in 39 countries, has reportedly written to António Guterres asking that Mr. [Michel] Sidibé step down in light of his alleged retaliation against staff, in light of a staff member having, in 2015, told him that Luiz Loures was a sexual predator.  And I'm wondering, what does the Secretary-General think now that… that… basically, it doesn't seem that Mr. Sidibé is going to self-resign.  What does he make of… of a member of the…?

Spokesman:  I think it’s always important to hear from our partners.  Mr. Sidibé continues to have the confidence of the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: And… and the investigation [inaudible] of Luiz Loures meets António Guterres' standards of zero tolerance…?

Spokesman:  I think we've spoken about the investigation."
On March 29
hen Inner City Press audibly asked Guterres, if he had even yet spoken to Sidibe, Guterres did not answer. Vine video here. Present was Guterres' Global Communicator Alison Smale, who orders UN staff to "speak with one voice" - hers - on allegations of sexual harassment. She has continued to restrict Inner City Press, declining for monthes to even answer what the rules are. Inner City Press has been receiving detailed complaints about mismanagement and harassment in UNAIDS, but the UN refuses to answer. So below are some more of the complaints. Tellingly, the day after Guterres refused Inner City Press' question about UNAIDS, here are Loures' victims speaking publicly, in their own names:  Martina Brostrom,
a policy advisor at UNAIDS, said of Loures at a conference in Bangkok, Thailand in 2015: "I was pleading with him, and I was just bracing with all that I could just to not leave the elevator."  Guterres? No answer - and no action. Where is Guterres on this? Where is Guterres? Malayah Harper, who used to run UNAIDS' programs in Uganda and Kenya, on Loures a year earlier, also at a hotel: "He got into the lift with me, and then kind of lunged forward to -- you could call it -- kiss me, but I thought a kiss had to be consensual." We'll have more on this, and on retaliation. Some more of the complaints exclusively published by Inner City Press: "Michel Sidibé has established this 'boys club' culture where qualified women are made to feel less worthy, are openly ridiculed by male colleagues except those women who are providing favors to him and his 'boys,' he continues to give perks to his boys who serve as his connectors to presidents, prime ministers etc by appointing them to important positions as well as even when they retired bridging them back on special assignments for them to make easy money. People such as Fritz Lherisson, Georges Shaw and more recently Abdoul Dieng." There are the Mali connections, beyond what Inner City Press reported about Burundi on March 23, here: "Ben Wahab - A Malian recently appointed as UNAIDS Country Director for Burundi with no country level and no management experience. He came in as a P4 Adviser and very quickly in 3 years he rose to his present position of UNAIDS Country Director.... Theresa Poirier, a Malian Canadian,  UNAIDS Country Director for Malawi .Also a relatively new comer to UNAIDS appointed by Michel as Director in Mali and now serving in Malawi as UNAIDS Country Director... Fode Simanga a Malian serving as senior adviser in Geneva but graded at Director level... Dado SY Kagnsssy a Malian before UNAIDS Country Director for Djibouti, very little experience,non articulative  and a fairly new comer to UNAIDS who was appointed to this position whilst many longer serving staff members are over looked and now posted to Guinea as UNAIDS Country Director.. Amakonde Sande (moved from consultant to P4 in short order to  P5 as UNAIDS Country Director in Malawi and then sent to Uganda  a D1 position where she stayed only for 3 months only to be appointed to China as UNAIDS Country Director... Bridgitte Quenum recently appointed as UNAIDS Country Director but she has no leadership, management experience and was appointed over other more senior  persons. It is reputed that her family is/was a great friend of Michel Sidibe and that is how she entered UNAIDS and now gained this distinguished position." But note - not only has Antonio Guterres bragged recently that now at the UN "we have some Portuguese things" - he also has his own hiring and traveling patterns.

As to UNAIDS and Sidibe, there is talk of mining business; there are harassment complaints and findings that Sidibé refuses to act on.  Of Girmay Haile, the current UNAIDS country director in Zimbabwe, whistleblowers tell Inner City Press that a recent internal investigation came unanimously to the conclusion of severe bullying and intimidation just two weeks ago - but Sidibé has refused to move him. This followed a previous investigation against Girmay Haile Girmay HaileGirmay HaileGirmay Hailein Kenya; Sidibe refused the recommendation of the internal team and promoted him to country director Ghana. Girmay Haile has reportedly said he knows too much and if he falls they all fall. We shall see.

  Back on March 15 when Inner City Press asked about the UN Secretariat's own investigation of whistleblowers, for the second day in a row, Haq again defended it, as somehow benefiting member states. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: I'm sure you've seen the article in The Guardian quoting Michel Sibidé [sic] of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS].  What I wanted to ask you is, he seems to be attacking those who came forward in the sexual harassment case against Luiz Loures.  He's attacked them.  He's said that Loures is a… is… made a courageous decision.  And, of his detractors, he says, we know these people are taking their golden shan… handshakes from us here and knowing they have a job and then attacking us.  We know all about that.  We know every single thing.  Time will come for everything.  When I hear anything about abuse of our assets, I ask for an investigation.  Maybe these investigations are going on.  And so, many staff and many people in the… in the “#MeToo” movement see this as a direct threat against those who came forward.  And I wonder, what does António Guterres… who I'm… I… I would assume is a reader of The Guardian, what does he think of these comments?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of this article.  Obviously, it's for UNAIDS and Mr.  Sidibé to explain what the comments attributed to him are. 

At UNESCO in Paris there are cover-ups and retaliation in the wake of the two-step firing of Assistant Director General Frank La Rue for sexual harassment.

But when Inner City Press on March 20 asked Guy Berger, the grandly titled Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, if he thought reporting on l'affaire La Rue, which has included Inner City Press' exclusive report that after his suspension he was still getting paid and now questions about UNESCO Ethics Adviser Rebecca Trott, Berger said he was unaware of the specifics of the case and to ask UNESCO's press officer.

  Since Inner City Press published the video of the Q&A, it has heard from UNESCO staff in New York that Berger "lied - he was among the best friends of La Rue, defended him at every turn, while also trying to take his job." This is how the UN works - work with collaborators like Berger's former student, to cover up abuse, while seeking mutual advancement. It is disgusting. So too on Rebecca Trott, UNESCO's "Ethics" adviser. As question mount about cover up, it will be interesting to know who is still protecting her within the organization. We'll have more on this.

Likewise, after Berger has spoken and joked with a former student (given the first question) about the importance of independent media and even holding power in check, when Inner City Press asked about the UN's FAO and WIPO going after the press, he said he was unaware but implied it might be justified.

When Inner City Press asked about the UN Department of Public Information's continuing lack of content neutral media access rules, despite Inner City Press' repeated requests to DPI boss Alison Smale, both his student and the UN moderate looked surprised, as if they didn't understand.

OK: Inner City Press was evicted from its UN work space for pursuing the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case in the UN Press Briefing Room - an event of the group headed by Berger's student - and has been a non-resident correspondent requiring DPI “minders” to cover the UN General Assembly and its President. Meanwhile its office was given to a no-show Egyptian state media, Akhbar al Yom's Sanaa Youssef, who has not ask the UN a question in ten years.

Media that rarely come in and ask anything have arrived since Inner City Press' eviction and have been given UN office space. Inner City Press has been told it is not even on the list, and Smale has not answer a single email. No rules. We'll have more on this (charade) - and on UNESCO. Watch this site.


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