Sexual harassment, assault goes unnoticed at UN: Victims


United Nations, Jan 19: The cases of sexual harassment and assault are rife in the UN offices around the world, with offenders enjoying impunity in a culture of flawed grievance system, a media report said on Friday.

Of the employees interviewed, 15 said they had experienced or reported sexual harassment or assault within the past five years, and alleged offences ranged from verbal harassment to rape, The Guardian reported.

The UN employees said there was a culture of silence across the organisation and a flawed grievance system that is stacked against victims.

The employees said only a few women, who were sexually harassed or assaulted, had formally reported to the grievance cell, but most of the victims do not report for the fear of losing their jobs. There is also a belief that even if they report, no action will be taken.

“If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you’re a consultant,” the report quoted one consultant as saying. The consultant alleged she was harassed by her supervisor while working for the World Food Programme. “It’s like an unsaid thing.”

Though the UN Secretary General António Guterres has “prioritised addressing sexual harassment and upholding the zero tolerance policy”, the organisation conceded that under-reporting is still a concern they are dealing with.

The report talked to several employees working in more than 10 countries and found that three women who had reported sexual harassment or sexual assault had been forced to quit or threatened with termination of their contracts, while the accused, including a senior UN official, continued to remain in their posts.

“There are no other options to get justice, and I have lost my job too,” one of the victims said on the conditions of anonymity.

She said that despite medical evidence and witness testimonies, an internal investigation by the UN found insufficient evidence to support her allegation.

“Along with my job, I lost my visa and spent months in hospital due to stress and trauma,” she said.

The internal documents revealed two of the women cite concerns with the investigations, claiming that the UN’s investigation’s team, the office of internal oversight services (OIOS), failed to interview key witnesses. They also said that transcripts contain errors and information from inquiries has been leaked.

While the accused continue to remain in their senior positions, they also influence the proceedings throughout the investigations, the report said.

“The UN has long been criticised over its failure to properly investigate reports of sexual abuse and exploitation by its peacekeeping forces against local people, not least in Central African Republic and Haiti. Campaigners point to a culture of impunity in UN offices, with accusers routinely silenced,” the report mentioned.

Due to the UN’s international nature, it becomes difficult for the local people or those within the organisation to pursue complaints. Also, many senior members enjoy diplomatic immunity and, therefore, avoid the national courts.




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