GENEVA — Independent experts looking into allegations of sexual harassment at the U.N. agency that fights AIDS say it is plagued by “defective leadership,” a culture of impunity, and a toxic working environment that cannot be changed unless its top official is replaced.
In a damning new report released Friday, the four experts cited a “vacuum of accountability” and said UNAIDS leaders had failed to prevent or properly respond to allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power.
The panel was created earlier this year following allegations of sexual harassment by staffers and calls from critics for executive director Michel Sidibe of Mali to resign.
Sidibe has denied claims that he tried to force an employee to drop allegations that she was sexually assaulted by his former deputy. And despite the scathing report, Sidibe said in a statement that he is the right man to turn around the organization.
That is not what the investigators believe.
“The panel has no confidence that the current leadership can deliver cultural change when that leadership has been largely responsible for the current malaise,” the report said. Its authors interviewed or received written submissions from more than 100 staffers and conducted a survey of about 60 percent of the agency’s staff.
Just as the report was made public, UNAIDS issued a statement promising an “agenda for change” led by the 66-year-old Sidibe to build upon the recommendations of the panel.