UN sexual abuse claims ‘must be investigated’

by Sima Kotecha & Sarah Bell at bbc.com

Claims of sexual abuse and corruption at the United Nations should urgently be investigated by an independent panel, an ex-senior UN member has said.

Purna Sen’s comments follow a BBC investigation which revealed the sackings of a number of UN staff who tried to expose alleged wrongdoing.

Ms Sen said the UN should “step up” and adopt any suggestions made by a panel.

A spokesperson for the UN told the BBC it was focused on ensuring that people felt safe to report abuse.

The BBC documentary, The Whistleblowers: Inside the UN, details allegations of corruption, management turning a blind eye to wrongdoing and sexual abuse.

Staff members who tried to report allegations told the BBC they had been penalised after speaking out – and some were sacked.

In the film, Ms Sen – who was appointed spokeswoman on harassment, assault and discrimination in 2018 – said there were women at the UN who had been “approached, accosted and raped”. The more men were allowed to get away with it, she said, “the more they will keep doing it”.

She has told BBC Newsnight that she is not surprised by the “deeply upsetting” testimonies.

“It suggests that sometimes the protection of the senior folk within each organisation matters more than the absence of harm to those who aren’t powerful.

“It means there is a real tension within an organisation which not only upholds and advocates for human rights, but is actually the birthplace of most of these human rights – yet it hasn’t learned to bring them home to the people who work for that organisation.”

Ms Sen said she wanted UN Secretary General António Guterres to appoint a diverse external panel to consider staff experiences and recommend a focused set of actions.

In a statement, Mr Guterres’ office said it remained open to any external review of its efforts “to combat misconduct of any kind”.