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'Defective leadership': UNAIDS chief to give up over scandal early

Sidibe denied claims he tried to force a worker to drop sexual harassment allegations [Denis Balibouse/Reuters]

The head of the United Nations’ (UN) body concentrating on AIDS has offered his resignation following a specialist report on sexual harassment in the agency that blasted his “defective leadership”.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, told the agency’s board on Thursday in the Swiss city of Geneva he would leave his post in June, spokesperson Mahesh Mahalingham said without elaborating.

Sidibe, in January 2020 whose term was likely to end, has been accused of fostering a ongoing work environment that tolerated bullying, sexual harassment and a culture of fear on the list of staff.

on Thursday

A panel of independent experts released a written report, saying Sidibe was overseeing a “patriarchal” workplace and promoting a “cult of personality” centred on him because the all-powerful chief.

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The experts cannot be changed unless Sidibe, a native of Mali who has headed the UN agency for nine years, resigned. 

Sidibe denied claims he tried to force a worker to drop allegations that she was sexually assaulted by his former deputy. Regardless of the scathing report, he insisted he was the proper man to show round the organisation.

‘No confidence’

Sweden, a significant UNAIDS donor, joined a chorus of activists this week in calling for Sidibe’s ouster.

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” no confidence is had by us. He now must resign,” Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister Isabella Lovin told Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, in line with the AFP news agency.

Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World and its own Code Blue Campaign, which works to get rid of impunity for sexual abuse by UN personnel, said Sidibe “doesn’t deserve to leave on his terms and on his timeline”.

“A leader of any major institution who was simply accused of the wrongdoing described in … the report could have been fired,” she said, criticising a “failure of leadership” by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who is able to fire Sidibe – and the UNAIDS board.

“This can be the culmination of the abuse of power and authority which has marked Sidibe’s tenure,” Donovan said. “The culture of impunity remains intact. Zero tolerance is … only empty slogan.”

The scandal broke out earlier this season when UNAIDS staffer Martina Brostrom went public with allegations originally organized in a sexual harassment and assault complaint in 2016.

In it, she alleged that Luiz Loures, after the agency’s deputy director for programmes, had forcibly grabbed and kissed her in a Bangkok hotel in-may 2015 – claims Loures denied. This season he left UNAIDS earlier.

The World Health Organization office that investigated the case figured there is insufficient evidence to aid Brostrom’s claims.