May 11, 2018: We’ve raised serious concerns about the UN’s decision to “reopen” the sexual assault and harassment case against Luiz Loures, former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS. The UN has so far been unwilling to answer basic questions about the mandate and scope of the new investigation. Watch as Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, fields skeptical queries from members of the UN press corps.
Watch the exchange(s) starting at 11:43 mark or read the transcript below:
Sherwin Bryce-Pease (SABC): Farhan, I had a couple of questions regarding Stéphane's response to calls from civil society for Michel Sidibé, the head of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS], to step down over his handling of sexual harassment claims. Steph [Dujarric] said that the Secretary-General feels Michel Sidibé has done a good job at UNAIDS, especially on issues of gender, and fully supports him. Why did the Secretary-General decide to express his full support, given the serious allegations that Mr. Sidibé is facing, and given the fact that the investigation has been reopened?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have taken the decision to reopen the investigation. As you know, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is now looking into the matter. Obviously, we would… we'll go by whatever their conclusions are once they have gone about their work. Regarding Mr. Sidibé's leadership of UNAIDS, the position is as Stéphane has expressed it and continues to be the case.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease: So, could I ask then does the Secretary-General also fully support Martina Brostrom, who has accused Mr. Sidibé of a cover-up?
Deputy Spokesman: We want to help all the sides of this case get to the bottom of this, which is why the decision was taken to reopen this. It was felt that the previous investigation needed ultimately to have a proper follow-up, and that's what we're doing.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease: But, you do agree that there are claims against Mr. Sidibé? So, for the Secretary-General to come out and fully support him, given the allegations against him, seems odd to people sitting on this side of the room. I mean, do you know something that we don't?
Deputy Spokesman: This is support for Mr. Sidibé and his work at UNAIDS. I can't speculate or prejudge what the Office of Internal Oversight Services will say as they look into the [Luiz] Loures case. They are free to do so, and then we will evaluate that accordingly once they've done that. Hold on.
Matthew Lee: Sure. Beyond the reopening and… and whatever… you know, OIOS's reinvestigation of the Loures case, there was the widely reported speech by Mr. Sidibé to staff, saying Mr. Loures is a great man and those of you who come out against him will be investigated. This was reported in The Guardian with direct quotes, and I guess, I think… I wanted to ask you, totally outside… is OIOS looking at threats of retaliation attributed to Mr. Sidibé by many participants in that meeting in an article published in The Guardian, and what is… Mr. [António] Guterres as the head of the system, does he believe that was a… a… a speech that's consistent with the non-retaliation principles that he espouses?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it's up to OIOS to determine. The Office of Internal Oversight Services determines what they'll look into. I'll leave that matter in their hands. Regarding the ability of people to speak out obviously, the Secretary-General believes that all staff of all the UN bodies have the right to speak out if they feel that there has been any sort of wrongdoing, and that they shouldn't feel silenced or impeded in any way.
Matthew Lee: But, if the Secretary-General is sort of… if you've just said that he'll… he's… obviously will defer to the OIOS's findings, does he understand what the scope of the review is? Is the review of the… of the… the abuse alleged by Mr. Loures, or is it of a speech after Mr. Loures was cleared by Mr. Sidibé to staff?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, like I said, it's up to the Office of Internal Oversight Services itself to determine what avenues it wishes to pursue. We'll provide information about the investigation once addition once it's completed. Yes? Sorry, sorry. Evelyn hasn't had a chance, and then you can go. No, Evelyn first.
Evelyn Leopold: Sorry to keep belabouring UNAIDS. The entire case… does the Secretary-General know this is as political as it is legal? And is he aware of what happened when Mr. [Kofi] Annan defended Mr. [Ruud] Lubbers and Mark Malloch Brown had to come out and change it? Because right now, it's damaging the UN reputation, and saying there's another investigation… there's always another investigation. The man… to clear him would be difficult. It's not just one woman. It's just one woman now knows how to hit the media.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General is very well versed in the history of the Ruud Lubbers case. As you'll recall, he was the High Commissioner of Refugees who replaced Mr. Lubbers.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease (SABC): Just a clarification on OIOS. Are you saying they have free rein to follow what… whatever avenue they think is appropriate? So it would include the original investigation which was… which doubts have been cast over, and the reaction of the… of the executive director? Am I understanding you correctly?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not speculating what exactly they are looking into at this point. That is their purview.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease: Should we not know what they're looking into, Farhan? I mean, what are they investigating?
Deputy Spokesman: We… when we made the announcement, we had mentioned that they were… that the Loures case was being reopened and the Office of Internal Oversight Services was looking into it. We will provide details once they've completed their work.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease: Why not before?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, because we don't provide updates on investigations as they proceed. We wait for them to be completed.
Sherwin Bryce-Pease: But, surely you do provide a mandate or a scope of, you know, reference to what they are looking at? It seems strange that you won't provide that now.
Deputy Spokesman: What I'm saying is I don't want to speculate in what avenues they will look at. It will become clear once they've completed their work. Yes?
Matthew Lee: Sure. I guess it's just a request to have Heidi Mendoza, I don't think, has done a press conference since she's been head of OIOS, and previous heads of OIOS have done this, so could you consider this a request that she, both on this this issue and generally on the work of OIOS, have a press conference?
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. I mean, I know from past experiences with past heads of OIOS, that they tend not to comment on ongoing cases, but yes, we can make a request for her to do a briefing.