December 3, 2018

AIDS-Free World has learned that the leadership of UNAIDS is actively working to suppress a report produced by an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) appointed to look into sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power at the UN agency.

The UNAIDS governing body (the Programme Coordinating Board, or PCB), currently chaired by the United Kingdom, had announced that the full IEP report would be released to the public online today, 3 December 2018. In an official memorandum issued on behalf of the PCB’s Bureau by UK Chairperson Daniel Graymore, all UNAIDS staff were informed on 29 October 2018 that:

“The IEP’s report, along with a Management Response from the UNAIDS Secretariat and a Statement from the UNAIDS Secretariat Staff Association, will be discussed at the 43rd PCB meeting [on December 11th]. All reports will be posted publically online by Monday 3 December 2018.”
Upon receiving the report of its transgressions last week, UNAIDS Management launched a furtive campaign to reverse the PCB Bureau’s decision to release the IEP report online today and to discuss the report in open session next week. That campaign has succeeded so far: under encrypted password, the IEP report will now be sent to the 22 governments that make up the full PCB, and to the heads of the 11 UN entities that comprise UNAIDS’ “committee of co-sponsoring organizations”—that is, the UN funds, agencies, and programmes organized through UNAIDS that comprise the UN’s joint responses to the global HIV epidemics. Later this week, the PCB members will vote on whether to release the report publicly at a later date, if at all.
“The attempted suppression of the report of the Independent Expert Panel is a shocking development in the continuing UNAIDS scandal,” said Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign. “Such an action calls into question the independence of the panel and the integrity of these UN processes. It represents an alarming repudiation of the promises made to UNAIDS staff and those of us, myself included, who agreed to be interviewed by the Independent Expert Panel.”
The IEP was appointed by the PCB following the widely publicized scandal over Luiz Loures, former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, who was accused of sexual assault of a subordinate and absolved through an internal investigation. AIDS-Free World released leaked documents pointing to manipulation of that investigation and its results by senior UN officials, which in turn unleashed a tumult of criticism regarding longstanding management practices including sexual harassment and abuse, bullying, abuse of power, and retaliation at UNAIDS. AIDS-Free World, other non-governmental organizations, current and former UNAIDS staff, and international media called for an immediate independent investigation and action by the Secretary-General and Member States. 
In lieu of a full-fledged investigation, the PCB appointed external experts “to take stock of what has worked and what has not worked to prevent and address harassment, including sexual harassment at the workplace and, moving forward, to identify best practices and concrete steps to better respond to harassment.”
Questions that require immediate answers include: When will the Independent Expert Panel’s report be released to the public? Will the report be discussed on 11 December during an open session of the PCB, as scheduled? Is there truth to rumors that the suppression of the report by UNAIDS Management was prompted by the IEP’s recommendations that Management be replaced? At what point will Secretary-General António Guterres be given the report and respond to it publicly? 
The sexual assault investigation and cover-up that provoked public outcry about UNAIDS leadership remain outstanding. In April, Secretary-General Guterres, who appointed the top managers of UNAIDS, announced that the UN would undertake a new investigation into Luiz Loures, who has since retired. Nothing further has been heard about that reopened investigation in the more than half-year since.


Peter Duffy:, Tel: +1-646-924-1710

For more information on allegations of sexual assault and harassment at UNAIDS, see our Spotlight on UNAIDS.