New UNAids chief vows to cleanse agency of sexual misconduct, abuse of power


Winnie Byanyima, the new head of scandal-hit UNAids has vowed to transform the agency’s culture to safeguard staff not only from sexual harassment but any abuse of power by top executives.

Byanyima said she would draw on lessons learned following allegations of sexual misconduct at Oxfam, of which she was international executive director until earlier this year, to address problems at the UN agency.

UNAids was lacerated by an independent panel last December over “a work culture of fear, lack of trust, and retaliation”. The panel’s report cited “a vacuum of accountability” and “a culture of impunity”.

Byanyima’s predecessor, Michel Sidibé, was accused of protecting his deputy, Luiz Loures, who was accused of sexual assault by an employee, Martina Brostrom.  Several women also alleged harassment from Loures, whose contract with UNAids has ended. Loures has denied all allegations. Sidibé, who also denied wrongdoing, initially refused to quit, stood down in May after he was appointed health minister in his native Mali.

“Definitely there is a lot of work to do to restore trust – trust of the staff in their leaders, in the organisation internally – because the scandal at UNAids was about some very senior leaders falling short of the values of the organisation,” said Byanyima in an interview with the Guardian, three weeks into the job.

Byanyima said she wanted to use a feminist approach to build a new culture in which everyone could work in safety and with dignity.

When UNAids was created in 1994, said Byanyima, with an epidemic raging, power appeared to have been concentrated at the top of the organisation. She said it needed to be redistributed, with people becoming more accountable and embracing the values of the organisation, which had been damaged by the scandal. (Source: The Guardian)