GENEVA : The crisis engulfing UNAIDS deepened Friday with the release of an expert report that found the agency's leaders, including executive director Michel Sidibe, systematically failed to address bullying, abuse and sexual harassment.

It was Sidibe who had pushed for the creation of the Independent Expert Panel, following the accusation that he and the agency mishandled sexual assault allegations against former deputy executive director Luiz Loures.

But the panel's findings include a blistering indictment of Sidibe's stewardship, claiming his secretariat is mired in ''a crisis which threatens its vital work.''

''The leaders, policies and processes at UNAIDS have failed to prevent or properly respond to allegations of harassment including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power in UNAIDS,'' the panel said.

''The evidence before the Independent Expert Panel of a broken organisational culture is overwhelming.''

The report, based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of staff surveys, said the agency tasked with coordinating the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic suffers from a ''vacuum of accountability.''

''The leadership of the UNAIDS Secretariat fails to accept responsibility for a culture of impunity  becoming prevalent in the organisation, a culture that does not ensure a safe  and dignified workplace for its staff, and one that fails to respect human rights in line with the law and United Nations value,'' it added.

Staff also described ''a work culture of fear, lack of trust, and retaliation against those who speak up about harassment and abuse of power,'' it further said.

Sidibe, a Malian national has led UNAIDS since 2009, has faced intense scrutiny since the Loures case became public.

An initial internal UN investigation cleared Loures of wrongdoing. But Loures's accuser, UNAIDS  staffer Martina Brostrom, then went public exposing flaws in the first probe including Sidbie's attempt to settle the dispute even as a formal process was ongoing. [AFP].


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