Widespread sexual harassment and assault at the United Nations

23, Jan 2018 | CJP Team

A Guardian investigation has found that “the United Nations has allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish in its offices around the world, with accusers ignored and perpetrators free to act with impunity,” with “a culture of silence and a flawed grievance system that is stacked against victims”. The Guardian spoke to UN staffers working in more than ten countries, with 15 of those interviewed saying they had suffered or reported sexual harassment or assault in the last five years. Three women from different offices who had reported sexual harassment or assault said they had been pushed out from their positions, or had been threatened with contract termination, while their alleged abusers continued in their positions. The Guardian saw internal documents in which two women noted their concerns with investigations, alleging that investigators did not interview key witnesses, and that transcripts included errors and investigation details had leaked. Alleged abusers have been permitted to stay in senior roles and had the clout to sway proceedings throughout investigations, the Guardian noted. Seven alleged victims said an ombudsman or coworker told them that they should not attempt to pursue a complaint. Given the UN’s massive size, perpetrators can be transferred away. Current and recent UN staffers of eight agencies, including the refugee agency and the food agencies, say the senior leadership is primary comprised of men. The UN has acknowledged that under-reporting of incidents is a problem, but said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has “prioritised addressing sexual harassment and upholding the zero tolerance policy”. The UN, in a statement, promised to “look at strengthening our capacities to investigate reports and to support victims,” noting that Guterres has appointed a victims’ rights advocate and set up a high-level task force on sexual harassment. It also plans to conduct a survey to determine the extent of the problem, and launch a helpline for those looking for advice.

 

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