UN Worker Who Accused High-Ranking Official of Sexual Assault Has Been Fired

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Martina Brostrom, who was fired on Friday, during a 2018 interview on CNN. (Credit: CNN)

Martina Brostrom, who was fired on Friday, during a 2018 interview on CNN. (Credit: CNN)

A United Nations whistleblower who accused a high-ranking official of sexually assaulting her has been fired over alleged financial and sexual misconduct.

She says that it was retaliation for her own complaint of sexual assault. The investigation that would lead to her dismissal was started by her alleged assailant.

Martina Brostrom, who first went public with her allegations against an assistant secretary general at the UN in a CNN interview in March 2018, says that she was dismissed from the organization on Friday. She denied charges of misconduct linked to her dismissal.

“This is what the UN does to women who report their sexual offenders,” Brostrom, a policy advisor at UNAIDS, the United Nations’ global AIDS program, told CNN. “[They] just want to get me out of the organization.”

Reached for comment, UNAIDS did not confirm the firing of Brostrom but told CNN that “two staff members were dismissed from UNAIDS after an independent investigation proved beyond reasonable doubt, that they had misused UNAIDS corporate funds and resources and had engaged in other misconduct, including sexual misconduct.”

“Any claims of retaliation are baseless and misleading,” UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott told CNN. She said that the investigation into the “the misuse of corporate funds and other misconduct” was completely independent from the inquiry into the alleged assault of Brostrom.

Brostrom told CNN last year that Luiz Loures, a UN assistant secretary general who has since left the role, forcibly groped and kissed her in 2015, and that her superiors tried to convince her against filing a complaint. In reporting Brostrom’s case, CNN spoke to two other women who alleged similar assaults by Loures.

Loures, who was also the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, has consistently denied all the allegations. An internal UN investigation cleared him of wrongdoing in Brostrom’s case, but that inquiry was reopened after Brostrom went public and remains ongoing.

Before being publicly accused of harassment, Loures had already requested a misconduct investigation, in March 2016, into another UNAIDS employee who is Brostrom’s partner.

Brostrom says that she had been assaulted the previous year, but did not file an official complaint about Loures’ alleged attack against her until November 2016 for fear of inaction or retaliation. She did tell a colleague at the time, with whom CNN spoke, and with several colleagues and family members who spoke with UN investigators.

Loures believes her allegations against him were actually retaliation for his investigation into her partner. “The baseless charge based on a supposed incident in Bangkok in May 2015 against me was to divert attention from the misconduct and to thwart my career at UNAIDS,” Loures said.

Loures said that the investigation into Bostrom’s partner was prompted by an anonymous email alleging misconduct.

Brostrom told CNN that she was not aware of the investigation into her until this April, when the Associated Press published an article on documents also obtained by CNN.

Documents from a preliminary misconduct investigation into Brostrom, shared with CNN earlier this year, allege that she and a colleague abused expenses and misused UN email and property to engage in a personal relationship. An internal oversight director said that “such conduct may have exposed UNAIDS to high reputational risk, both internally and vis-a-vis external partners.”

UNAIDS said in a statement to CNN that it “has a duty to investigate all allegations of improper behavior,” and that an investigation substantiated the anonymous complaint against Brostrom.

“I categorically deny everything that they’re accusing me of,” Brostrom told CNN, and said she plans to appeal her dismissal. She shared a 2017 performance review with CNN, covering the year in which the anonymous complaint was filed, in which her supervisor gave her the highest possible marks for “exceptional achievement.”

Brostrom told CNN she could not understand how it was “even possible” that Loures could be absolved of allegedly assaulting her, while she is accused of her own sexual misconduct.

“And if they are referring to having a relationship with a UNAIDS colleague, that person is the father of my child and my partner in life that I am living with today. So I don’t understand how that is misconduct.”

The head of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, stepped down earlier this year after a damning independent report said that he presided over a “patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority.” The UN called his departure a “personal decision.” In May, UNAIDS congratulated Sidibe on his appointment as Minister of Health and Social Affairs in his native Mali.

Paula Donovan of the independent watchdog Code Blue, which has closely monitored these cases, said in a statement that the UN was “rigorously adhering to its ancient double standards: men are protected and women are hounded.”

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