Senior UN official loses appeal against dismissal over sexual misconduct

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Ravi Karkara, former senior adviser to UN Women, has lost his appeal at a dispute tribunal after contesting the sexual misconduct charges which has led to his dismissal from the United Nations.

Karkara, who was responsible for promoting gender equality and youth partnerships at UN Women, was dismissed in 2018 after he was accused of harassing younger men, including an intern.

Although previously unnamed, details of allegations against him were made public in a judgment this month after he took his case to the UN dispute tribunal contesting his dismissal.

An investigation by UN Women found Karkara had sexually harassed, exploited and abused two non-UN personnel, harassed a UN intern, and used his work email account to distribute pornography.

Steve Lee, the key complainant against Karkara filed allegations in June 2017 after working with the UN as the founder of a youth-led organisation.

Lee was given speaking opportunities and access to working groups by Karkara, but according to the judgment, the senior adviser increasingly wielded his power over Lee and suggested he perform sexual acts in return for favours.

At the hearing Karkara said Lee had misunderstood his messages as sexual.

In December 2016, Lee was assaulted after helping Karkara to take his luggage to a Montreal hotel room. The senior adviser opened pornography websites on Lee’s laptop and grabbed his genitals through his trousers.

The judgment reveals that a second non-UN employee made allegations against Karkara. They claimed he sent them photographs of himself in the bath and requested pictures in return.

The unnamed complainant also said Karkara followed him to the toilets at an event in New York and asked to see his genitals.

An intern with the UN also made a complaint, saying Karkara would text requesting photos.

Karkara claimed UN Women’s investigation was biased and that testimonies had been fabricated with the assistance of people in the organisation with whom he’d had disputes.

The tribunal concluded UN Women was right to sack Karkara after finding “clear and convincing evidence” he inappropriately touched Lee and asked for oral sex via WhatsApp. It found his behaviour towards the intern amounted to harassment.

Sharanya Kanikkannan, legal adviser for campaign group Code Blue, welcomed the judgment, but said the system is made harder for victims to navigate by differing rules, standards and complaints processes across the UN.

“A high profile case like this gets held up as an example of how things are working but we learn from it and examine what reforms can be made to improve the system.”

But Kanikkannan said that in another complaint Code Blue had seen, “case investigators rejected the complaint as the exchanges seemed ‘friendly’”, while in other UN cases allegations that could not be corroborated by an eyewitness had been dismissed. (Source: The Guardian)

 

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