January 16, 2019

Statement from AIDS-Free World’s Code Blue Campaign on “Safe Space: Survey on Sexual Harassment in our Workplace,” the survey of United Nations staff and contractors conducted by Deloitte.  

Code Blue is unsurprised by the UN staff survey results but shocked and deeply concerned by disingenuous statements within Secretary-General Mr. Guterres’ letter announcing the results to UN personnel. What follows is an initial fact-check of some of the most unacceptable statements within the Secretary-General’s letter.

“Since taking office, I have emphasized my personal commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment...”

FACT: Last month, an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) released conclusions of its 6-month inquiry into “sexual harassment, abuse of power, and bullying at UNAIDS, saying that the Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, has “created a patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority” that “fails to uphold the United Nations’ law and values.” The panel called for his dismissal.

Mr. Guterres has not suspended Mr. Sidibé, asked for his resignation, nor made any comment.

“As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard.”

FACT: The Secretary-General has never commented on any of the recent public reports of sexual misconduct in several other UN organizations —including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Significant steps have also been taken to strengthen our system-wide investigative capacity to accelerate investigations…”

FACT: Six new investigators have been hired. The survey indicates that 5,162 UN personnel were subjected to sexual harassment in the past two years.

In April 2018, Mr. Guterres announced that he was initiating a new investigation, through OIOS, into sexual assault and harassment charges lodged against the former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Luiz Loures. Nothing has been announced since about this “new investigation.”

“[Significant steps have also been taken] ensure that they are victim-focused”

FACT: Despite his public promises in early 2017 to do so, the Secretary-General has refused to meet with three survivors of sexual assault by UN personnel who have written to him directly to request personal meetings,  

“...our actions are having an impact…. I convened a senior-level Task strengthen and harmonize our efforts. In the first year of operation, the Task Force has delivered concrete improvements including...a screening database that prevents the rehire of those who have perpetrated sexual harassment while employed in the system.”

FACT: The Secretary-General’s Task Force is headed by Ms. Jan Beagle, who was promoted to Under-Secretary-General by Mr. Guterres while she herself was under investigation for workplace harassment at UNAIDS.


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

Deloitte’s Safe Space Survey Report is available here; the UN Secretary-General’s letter to UN staff is available here. Both were issued on January 15, 2019.

(UN Photo)