UN whistleblower sacked for alleged sexual and financial misconduct
A high-profile UN whistleblower, whose claims of sexual assault at the main agency dealing with Aids prompted a long-running scandal, has been sacked along with another colleague for alleged sexual and financial misconduct.
Martina Brostrom publicly accused a senior director at UNAids of forcibly kissing her and trying to drag her out of a Bangkok elevator in 2015. She also said he had sexually harassed her on other occasions.
An investigation found the allegations were not substantiated. But campaigners condemned the manner in which the inquiry was handled, and her case prompted an investigation into the agency’s leadership and culture by an independent expert panel.
Earlier this year, Associated Press reported that before Brostroms’s allegations became public, Brostrom herself and a supervisor were being investigated by UN officials for their own sexual and financial misconduct.
Internal UN documents leaked to AP suggested officials at the agency believed they had evidence that Brostrom and a supervisor had taken part in fraudulent practices and misused travel funds.
According to AP, the staff members were reprimanded for abusing UN privileges by requesting special UN rates for the purpose of booking hotels for sexual encounters.
Brostrom denies the claims, adding: “My performance and professional integrity has never been questioned during my 14 years with UNAids, as [is] reflected in my performance appraisals.”
She added that she believes her dismissal is an act of “retaliation”, and that she was not aware that she was subject to an investigation until she was contacted by the media this year.
“I spoke up about what happened to me and what was happening in UNAids. As a consequence, I have suffered tremendously,” Brostrom said in a statement.
Brostrom was credited by some for starting a #MeToo movement at the UN and her complaint that she was sexually assaulted led to two inquiries: a UN investigation that concluded there was insufficient evidence to support her claims, and an independent assessment of the agency’s management that found a culture of impunity and defective leadership.
In an email on Saturday that did not identify Brostrom by name, UNAids spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott told AP that two staff members were dismissed from UNAids after an independent investigation concluded beyond reasonable doubt that they had misused UNAids corporate funds and resources and had engaged in other misconduct, including sexual misconduct.
Barton-Knott said the investigation began eight months before one staffer filed allegations of being sexually assaulted.
She said any claims the employee was fired as payback for lodging her sexual assault claims were “baseless and misleading”.
The ongoing scandals have been a damaging distraction for UNAids, an agency at the centre of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded UN efforts to end the global Aids epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.
Last year, the independent expert panel described a “crisis” at the organisation. The panel identified the failure of “leaders, policies and processes at UNAids [which] have failed to prevent or properly respond to allegations of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power”.
“The evidence before the independent expert panel of a broken organisational culture is overwhelming,” added the panel, describing “a culture of impunity” that had become prevalent in the organisation.