Sexual misconduct, harassment thrives at United Nations, claim staff

An investigation into the United Nations revealed a culture where women who report sexual misconduct were made to undergo a hell-like situation.

Sexual misconduct, harassment thrives at United Nations, claim staff
PTI photo

LONDON: Dozens of current and former employees from 10 countries were interviewed and described pervasive silence in the organization, where accusers were ignored or feared for their jobs if they spoke out. 

Fifteen of those interviewed claimed they had experienced or reported sexual harassment within the past five years, ranging from 'verbal harassment to rape.' Guardian reports that the investigations were mishandled internally in various ways, and the accused men were often allowed to remain at their posts while accusers were 'forced out of their jobs or threatened.'

One consultant, who allegedly was harassed by her supervisor at her job, said, "If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you're a consultant. It's an unsaid thing." Surprisingly, the United Nations has admitted that under-reporting is a concern but observed that it has prioritised addressing sexual harassment and upholding the zero tolerance policy. 

Three women who reported sexual harassment or assault told Guardian that after their complaint, they were forced out of their jobs or threatened with the termination of their contract. The alleged perpetrators, however, continued to remain at their posts. Another woman who claimed that she was raped by a more senior UN staff member, said she lost her job despite producing media evidence and witness testimonies. 

Seven other alleged victims who spoke to the Guardian were told by an ombudsman or colleague that they should not try to pursue a complaint.

Alleged perpetrators have on the other hand were allowed to remain in senior positions. Four other women, who are still or were UN employees until recently said they were not even given adequate medical care or counselling by the UN. 

Many victims and witnesses, who did not pursue formal complaints, said they took the decision out of fear, retaliation. Most of UN employees rely on the organisation for employment and for working visas and other UN benefits. Some agencies have a six-month statute of limitations on complaints.

The United Nations have been severally criticised for the incidents of sexual abuse by its peacekeeping missions in Africa and other parts of the world. But the reports of sexual abuse at its offices have surfaced for the first time in the press.

The United Nations, in its report, too conceded the sexual abuse within the organisation remains a concern. "Data collected system-wide in 2016 indicate that 65 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse involving civilians were reported, while 80 allegations were made against uniformed personnel. These 145 allegations are associated with at least 311 known victims, the vast majority of whom (309) are women and girls, although there may be more," said organisation in its report.

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