UN official booked of sexual harassment

A Sri Lankan staffer has accused one of the highest ranking UN officials of sexual harassment in a case currently playing out at the United Nations. Shihana Mohamed, a Human Resources Policies Officer with the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), has charged the New York-based Commission’s chairman of retaliating against her by denying promotions and excluding her from duty-travel overseas because she refused to accede to his demands.

After a long drawn-out investigation, the Office of Internal Oversight Service (OIOS), the UN’s investigative arm, produced a report last week.

But the contents of the report are under wraps since neither the OIOS nor ICSC has announced plans to go public with the results of the investigation in an institution which has long preached “transparency and accountability” to the outside world.

The official against whom the charges were made, UN Under-Secretary-General Kingston Rhodes of Sierra Leone, abruptly announced his resignation last Friday, two weeks before his retirement — circumventing the sexual harassment charges. The ICSC is described as an independent expert body established by the 193-member UN General Assembly, and its mandate is to regulate and coordinate the conditions of service of staff in the United Nations common system, while promoting and maintaining high standards in the international civil service.

As a result, the office of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he has no jurisdiction over a UN body created by the General Assembly and answerable only to member states—even though, ironically, Mr. Guterres has been vociferously advocating a “zero tolerance policy” on sexual abuse and harassment at the UN.

The New York-based Equality Now, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes women’s rights, is advocating Ms. Mohamed’s cause.

Antonia Kirkland, Legal Equality Global Lead at Equality Now, said Secretary-General Guterres acknowledged months ago that the allegations against the ICSC chairman were “credible.”

“So he should have done everything to protect his own staff from sexual harassment regardless of the Chair of the ICSC, or anyone else’s, technical employment status vis-a-vis the UN.” She said the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment should apply to all, without exception, with survivors and their interests at the centre.

“All those who have been found to perpetrate sexual harassment should be held accountable. The UN is the premier international defender of human rights and should start by defending its own employees from sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Ms. Kirkland. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Ms. Mohamed said “I was sexually harassed by the Chairman of the ICSC for more than 10 years — and I was not the only one. Because I said “NO” to his repeated sexual advances, he denied me promotions, and excluded me from duty travels, training, assignments, projects, Commission sessions and working groups.

“In 2016, I was on sick leave for three-months due to the stress caused by the hostile office environment and retaliation by the ICSC management.

“His quiet resignation just two weeks before the end of his term is a slap in my face and barely a slap on his wrist. It is very sad that the ICSC, a jointly-funded body with a mandate to cover all facets of UN staff employment conditions, failed to make Mr. Rhodes accountable for his misconduct.”

Also, the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President have said that they do not have any jurisdiction over the ICSC Chairman who is a UN official elected by the General Assembly.

“Then, my question is, who has the jurisdiction over him? Can this one person stand above all the rules, regulation and UN values as well as with no checks and balances while dealing with public funds and trust?,” she asked.
The issue is expected to go before the UN Dispute Tribunal.

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