UN AIDS agency fires whistleblower after misconduct probe

TORONTO (AP) — The United Nations’ AIDS agency has fired two staffers for financial and sexual misconduct, including a whistleblower whose allegations of being sexually assaulted sparked months of turmoil at the organisation. Last March, Martina Brostrom publicly accused a senior UNAIDS director 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. But before those allegations became public, Brostrom herself and a supervisor were being investigated by UN officials for their own sexual and financial misconduct, as revealed in an Associated Press story in April.

Internal documents obtained by the AP showed UN officials had “evidence” Brostrom and a supervisor had taken part in “fraudulent practices and misuse of travel funds.” Among other charges, the two were reprimanded for “abusing UN privileges by requesting special UN rates for the purpose of booking hotels for sexual encounters”. Brostrom said that she was fired from UNAIDS last week in an act of retaliation.

“I spoke up about what happened to me and what was happening in UNAIDS. As a consequence, I have suffered tremendously,” she 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, agency spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott said 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”.

The headquarters building of UNAIDS in Geneva. PHOTO: AP