STOPAIDS supports calls for an independent investigation into how UNAIDS and WHO-IOS handled sexual assault claims

There is substantial and growing criticism of officials from UNAIDS and WHO-IOS (WHO’s Internal Oversight Service who oversee UNAIDS internal complaints procedures) for mis-handling the investigation into a claim of sexual assault from a UNAIDS staff member towards former UNAIDS Deputy Director Luiz Loures.  It is critical that any mis-handling of this case is addressed immediately and comprehensively.

STOPAIDS therefore supports the call for an independent investigation into the process of how WHO-IOS handled this claim of sexual assault. This investigation must be independent of UNAIDS senior management, WHO-IOS and the UN system and report to UN Member States rather than the Executive Director of UNAIDS or WHO. STOPAIDS supports Aids Free World’s call for an Independent Oversight Panel to be established to oversee this new investigation.

We are aware that the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board has also announced an Independent Expert Panel on the prevention of and response to harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power. While we support this panel to identify forward-looking improvements in these areas, this process will not include in its scope an assessment of the original investigation carried out by WHO-IOS and on its own will not allow UNAIDS to fully address the problem at hand and the concerns raised by stakeholders.

UNAIDS plays a critical role in the global HIV response providing strategic direction, advocacy, coordination and technical support needed to reach the Sustainable Development Target of ending AIDS. UNAIDS needs to hold itself to the highest standards when developing, adhering to and investigating its internal policies. The systemic issues at UNAIDS which have led to this situation need to be taken seriously and addressed as quickly as possible so that UNAIDS’ important work globally does not continue to be undermined. We support the Athena Network’s statement which sets a long-term plan of action for UNAIDS including developing new workplace protections and policies to promote equity and safeguarding against violence and harassment, developing a Gender Action Plan, and implementing stronger accountability mechanisms.

Mike Podmore, Director of STOPAIDS said ‘STOPAIDS supports the call for an immediate investigation into how UNAIDS and WHO-IOS handled claims of sexual assault at UNAIDS. All those found to have mishandled the case must be held to account and this must be done quickly so we can draw a line under a growing storm that is overshadowing our needed focus on ending AIDS by 2030. STOPAIDS believes in a zero-tolerance approach towards the perpetrators and enablers of sexual harassment and assault and stands in solidarity with all those who have experienced this behaviour in the workplace or elsewhere’.

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