TAC, SECTION27, & Sonke Gender Justice call for an independent investigation into UNAIDS’s mishandling of sexual harassment allegations

Johannesburg, 9 April 2018 – The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), SECTION27, and Sonke Gender Justice are deeply concerned by the way UNAIDS (the United Nations agency responsible for AIDS), and its head Michel Sidibé, has mishandled a recent case of alleged sexual harassment.

We are particularly concerned by the following relating to an allegation of sexual harassment made by Martina Brostrom against former Assistant Secretary General Luiz Loures:

  1. A UNAIDS internal investigation into the alleged sexual harassment by Loures took 14 months to complete – a period we consider to be unacceptably long. In addition to raising questions about the urgency and seriousness with which UNAIDS deals with such allegations, the protracted process also fuels suspicions that Loures got special treatment due to his seniority.
  2. During the 14-month investigation, it appears an attempt was made by Sidibé to get Brostrom to drop her complaint. Brostrom claims that she was offered a promotion in exchange for accepting an apology and dropping her complaint. While Sidibé questions Brostrom’s version of events, comments he made to CNN suggests that he did attempt to find a way to make the issue go away quietly. We consider any such effort to pressure persons into dropping complaints of sexual harassment to be unacceptable.
  3. As reported in the Guardian, in a speech to UNAIDS staff Sidibé made disparaging remarks about employees who have spoken out about alleged sexual harassment. We consider such victim blaming to be completely unacceptable.

We do not propose that it should simply be assumed that Loures is guilty. But we do expect UNAIDS to handle such allegations, and its internal and external communications surrounding such allegations, with both seriousness, urgency, and respect for the dignity of the persons involved.

UNAIDS, like all other UN agencies, must deal with, and be seen to deal with allegations of sexual harassment quickly, fairly and with extreme seriousness. This is particularly important given that UNAIDS is supposed to play a guiding and coordinating role in the global AIDS response.

We are also alarmed by various media reports suggesting that Brostrom’s case was not an isolated incident. In addition, our colleagues at AIDS-Free World, who have followed this case more closely, have raised serious questions about the process by which Loures was cleared. Together these various pieces paint a deeply worrying picture of UNAIDS’s seriousness in addressing sexual harassment.

We believe that a fully independent investigation (with no links to UNAIDS or other entities that may suffer reputational damage because of such an investigation) must be conducted into UNAIDS’s handling of Brostrom’s case. This should include a detailed investigation into Sidibé’s role in the investigation, his communications with Brostrom, and his communications with UNAIDS staff and with the media. A report of such an investigation must be made public and must include recommendations to ensure future allegations of sexual harassment are appropriately handled.

For more information contact:

Lotti Rutter | Treatment Action Campaign | Media liaison | | +27 72 225 9675