May 8, 2019 / 4:06 PM / 4 months ago

UNAIDS chief charged with enabling 'culture of harassment' joins Mali government

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A U.N. executive accused of creating a “boys’ club” culture of sexual harassment and bullying has been appointed Mali’s new health minister, according to the government.

Michel Sidibe had served as executive director of UNAIDS, the United Nations’ HIV/AIDS program, since 2009. His departure is effective immediately, said UNAIDS on Wednesday.

An independent review commissioned by UNAIDS last year following sexual harassment claims said Sidibe neither prevented harassment nor responded quickly to accusations.

“The executive director ... has created a patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority and in his interviews with the panel he accepted no responsibility,” said the panel of experts’ report, which recommended he step down.

Sidibe, who said at the time he would leave the agency in June, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The aid industry has come under scrutiny as the #MeToo movement - sparked by dozens of accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein - has heightened global attention around sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

Revelations last year that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in Haiti during an earthquake relief mission in 2010 snowballed into widespread reports of sexual misconduct in the sector.

Luiz Loures, the deputy head of UNAIDS under Sidibe, stepped down last year after he was accused of sexual harassment.

UNAIDS in a statement congratulated Sidibe on his new post and praised his contributions to the global AIDS response.

A spokesman declined to comment on whether his departure was linked to accusations in the report, which came out in December.

Paula Donovan, co-director of Code Blue, a campaign seeking accountability for abuses by U.N. personnel, said Sidibe should have been fired as soon as the report was published and not given the opportunity for another high-level position.

“I think the #MeToo movement has made it clear that it’s not possible to commit sexual harassment and get away with it unless you have the endorsement or the complicity of your supervisors,” she said.

Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced a new list of ministers including Sidibe on Sunday. A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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