Alleged sexual harassment at UNAIDS: 10 African countries raise the alarm over distortion of fact

May 15th, 2018

By Hassan Zaggi

A coalition of stakeholders in the fight against HIV across 10 countries have called on a group its christened ‘a gang-of-four’ to henceforth, exercise some constrain in its consistent call for the resignation or suspension of the UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe, over the alleged sexual harassment at the UNAIDS.

In a strongly warded letter with the theme: ‘Open Letter to Stephen Lewis, Michael Weinstein, Gregg Gonsalves and Richarg Horton’ and signed by 92 stakeholders across the 10 African countries, which was obtained by The AUTHORITY, the group accused the ‘gang-of-four’ of distorting the facts and overblown by fake news the yet unproven sexual assaults allegations at the UNAIDS.

A breakdown of the stakeholders who signed the letter across the 10 African countries include Congo Brazzaville-12, Ghana 17, Liberia 12, Sierra Leone 4, Cameroun 19, Malawi 3, Nigeria 17, Mali 3, Gabon 2 and Togo 3.

It would be recalled that UNAIDS has been battling with alleged sexual harassment which led Mr Sidibé to asked UNAID’s Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) to undertake a complete and independent review of the current situation in the UNAIDS Secretariat with regard to harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power and retaliation—including by looking back over the past seven years—to assess the organizational culture at headquarters and the regional and country offices.

The PCB has also been mandated to evaluate the effectiveness of existing policies and procedures to prevent and address harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and abuse of power in the UNAIDS Secretariat workplace.

They will recommend a comprehensive set of prioritized measures on organizational culture, policies and fair and due process procedures with respect to harassment, including sexual harassment, and bullying, retaliation and abuse of power in the workplace. If he were looking to hide something, we doubt he would ask for the equivalent of a rectal exam.

Mr Sidibé has pushed to have the investigation reopened and moved entirely outside UNAIDS to look at Malaya Harper’s allegations, as well as hear testimony from individuals who were not interviewed but who could shed additional light on the events in Bangkok. We understand why Mr Lewis is opposed to the investigation being reopened.

While addressing the ‘gang –of –four’ one by one, the group reminded Mr Stephen Lewis that “you have done everyone a terrible disservice by publishing an incomplete and redacted version of the inspection report. You have published what purports to be an analysis of the inspection’s failures without sharing the most important part – the hundreds of pages of interviews. “We understand there is much more to the story than has been made public through your selective disclosures. You have simply helped yourself and the rest of your gang-of-four turn the shield of confidentiality into a sword of deception by sharing selective confidential data.”

On the other hand, the group accuses Dr Richard Horton, of not having the facts nor the evidence with respect to the alleged sexual harassment at UNAIDS.

According to the stakeholders, “For 30 years we have together fought against stigma and discrimination engendered by untruths – myths and untruths which have hurt and held back many from receiving the care and support they need.

“Today we see your little cabal – the unconstrained gang-of-four – rushing to judge and condemn a man who has repeatedly brought life and hope to the AIDS response and we ask: why the hurry? Why do you want to cut short an effort to illuminate what has happened?

“You are probably aware that a webinar organized by ATHENA on Wednesday 8 May 2018 and addressed by the UNAIDS Executive Director and Under Secretary General of the United Nations Michel Sidibé was very well received and, in our view, a very good and welcome effort to restore sanity to this whole issue of alleged sexual harassment at UNAIDS.”

The group therefore debunked as blatant lie the assertion that Mr. Sidibé has been under pressure from many quarters to step down.

This, the group said is misleading and an attempt to legitimize the voice of only one side, insisting that the call for the removal of Michel Sidibé is coming from a few angry men – at the instigation of the gang-of-four – who are ignoring the bigger voice of women living with HIV!

“A bigger voice from several continents believes Mr Sidibé should continue with his good work. This voice deserves your respectful attention. Our voices count! They should be heard!

“Over a 30-year career at UNICEF and UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé has shown through his actions that women matter to him. We checked. He has launched countless initiatives aimed at better health access for women, better protection of women’s rights, and better efforts to measure and track progress.

“UNAIDS is the only UN organization with a majority of woman staff, with nearly 50% of management positions held by women and with a total openness to sexual minorities. This is neither an old boys club nor the Taliban,” the group reiterated.

On Mr Michael Weinstein, the group said, “your agenda is not our agenda. We want to know the truth. We are not interested in regime change. If AHF wants to see a woman in charge at UNAIDS, it can start by setting the example at home.”

If further reminded Mr Gregg Gonsalves, that his attempts to undermine Mr Sidibé and his achievements started long ago, stressing that: “We find it appropriate to remind you that you need not destroy the uncontested achievements of Mr Sidibé and UNAIDS to salvage your questionable relevance to the global HIV response.

The group therefore applauded what it described the recent unmistakable restatement of confidence and trust in Mr Sidibé’s leadership by the United Nations Secretary General, Mr António Guterres.

Mr Guterres’ words, according to the group, are a reassurances to Mr Sidibé and UNAIDS to stay focussed on achieving the important 2020 HIV targets.

“We, the undersigned 92 – in addition to and in solidarity with the 153 women who signed a statement in support of Mr Sidibé on Friday 4 May 2018 – say let the process proceed. Complete the investigation and share the whole truth publicly – no more selective sharing and manipulation of the story.

“Truth and facts have brought us a long way in our struggle. Today, perhaps more than ever, it is important we fight against fake news, against mob rule and lynching, and insist that facts be brought to light,” the group noted.

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