The United Nations will reopen an investigation into sexual assault allegations against a senior official who was exonerated in an earlier probe that his accuser said was flawed.
Luiz Loures, the deputy head of UNAIDS who is also an assistant secretary general, is alleged to have sexually assaulted Martina Brostrom, a subordinate, in a hotel elevator during a 2015 conference in Bangkok.
The UN announced on Friday that claims against Loures will be re-examined ‘as part of a broader investigation in the light of additional allegations,’ CNN reported on Friday.
Brostrom has long claimed that the UN mishandled the investigation into her complaint and tried to sweep the scandal under the rug by offering her a promotion.
Martina Brostrom, senior adviser at UNAIDS (left), has accused Luiz Loures, deputy head of UNAIDS (right), of sexually assaulting her in 2015 – a claim he denies
She has worked at UNAIDS in various capacities since 2006, most recently as senior adviser at the United Nations’ agency dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour for the first time last month, Brostrom claimed that Loures cornered her in the elevator of a hotel in Thailand where they were staying during a conference in 2015, forcibly kissed her on the mouth, groped her and attempted to drag her into his room.
Loures has denied the allegations of misconduct, and a 14-month investigation conducted by the World Health Organization has concluded that Brostrom’s claims were unsubstantiated – an investigation that Brostrom slammed as ‘deeply flawed.’
The newly reopened investigation will be conducted by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services and that ‘no UNAIDS officials will be involved in this case going forward.’
Brostrom told CNN on Friday that she was not aware that the investigation was reopened.
She said that any probe that is completely independent of the UN would not be sufficient.
Otherwise, ‘it doesn’t make any difference,’ she said.
Two other women have come out accusing Loures of similar sexual misconduct, among them an unnamed UN employee and feminist activist Malayah Harper, the recently appointed general secretary of World YWCA – a global organization promoting young women’s leadership and rights.
Loures, 61, announced last month that he will not seek to renew his term in office, which expired earlier this month, but a spokesperson said it was not reasonable to link his departure from UNAIDS after 22 years to the sexual harassment case.
‘He clearly feels that this is time for him to move on,’ UNAIDS’ Mahesh Mahalingam said in late February.
CNN reported that several people warned UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe about Loures’ conduct towards women over the past three years, but during a staff meeting last month, Sidibe reportedly denied being warned.
Sidibe reportedly praised Loures’ decision to step aside for the good of the organization as ‘courageous’ and said that UN employees who spoke publicly about alleged sexual harassment ‘do not have ethics.’
Similarities: Brostrom (left) said Loures lunged at her in a hotel elevator, forcibly kissed her and tried to take her to his room. Feminist activist Malayah Harper (right) said Loures did almost the same thing to her in 2014
Out: Loures, 61, announced in February that he will not seek to renew his term in office, which expired last month
Brostrom, who has a Master’s degree in public health from University of London and lives in Geneva, Switzerland, said that even before heading to Bangkok in May 2015 to attend an AIDS conference, she knew Loures’ penchant for unwelcome physical contact.
She said that after a reception at the hotel where they were staying, she got into an elevator with Loures and he pushed her towards the wall.
‘He starts shoving his tongue into my mouth, trying to kiss me. And he is groping my body, including my breasts,’ she told CNN’s Amanpour.
‘The elevator door opens and he tries to forcefully pull me out of the elevator, drag me towards the corridor of his room.’
Brostrom said she was able to escape his grip and retired to the safety of her room.
That night, she spoke to three co-workers and her mother, all of whom would later tell investigators that she seemed distressed and upset.
UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe praised Loures’ decision to step aside for the good of the organization as ‘courageous’
It took Brostrom a year-and-a-half to file a formal complaint against Loures, after learning that following a reorganization within UNAIDS, her alleged assailant could become one of her direct superiors.
Brostrom explained the delay in filing the complaint by saying that she feared her allegations would not be taken seriously, or she could face retaliation at work.
She has been on paid medical leave from UNAIDS since April 2017, having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
WHO´s internal oversight services division carried out the confidential investigation into Loures, who told them, according to a report obtained by CNN, that on the night of the alleged incident, Brostrom had been drinking and had spoken to him about her sexual predilections.
Loures said the woman told him, ‘you could never handle me.’
Brostrom denied being drunk and dismissed the suggestion that she raised the subject of her sexual preferences with Loures.
In the course of the investigation, Brostrom said UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe tried to convince her to drop the case and accept an apology from Loures in exchange for a promotion.
Both Sidibe and Loures denied that Loures ever wanted to apologize to Brostrom.
Sidibe, however, did admit to WHO investigators that he told Brostrom it would be good to find a way to protect the organization and have a discussion about her work.
Brostrom rejected Sidibie’s offer and the probe went forward. Last November, Sidibe recused himself from the case at the request of Brostrom’s attorney.
A short time later, the investigation cleared Loures of any wrongdoing, concluding that there was no evidence to corroborate Brostrom’s ‘detailed’ account of the encounter.
The report, however, included a recommendation that ‘as a preventative measure,’ senior managers remind Loures of UNAIDS’ sexual harassment policy, ‘especially with respect towards female colleagues,’ CNN reported.
Under UN rules, the decision to close the case may still be appealed to the administrative tribunal of the International Labor Organization.
The details of the incident, as described by Brostrom, rang true to Malayah Harper, who told CNN that Loures assaulted her in a strikingly similar manner in a hotel elevator in 2014, while she was still employed at UNAIDS.
‘He got into the lift with me, and then kind of lunged forward to… kiss me, but I thought a kiss had to be consensual,’ she told the news outlet.
Harper never filed a formal complaint before leaving UNAIDS.
A third accuser, who currently works for the UN, told CNN that Loures forced himself on her, ‘stuck his tongue’ in her mouth and tried to grope her body, including reaching inside her blouse.
Loures told CNN in a statement that he cooperated fully with the independent investigation that found Brostrom’s claims to be unsubstantiated.
He said he was surprised by Harper’s allegation, which he also denied.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, asked about the UNAIDS case, told a news briefing on February 7: ‘On sexual harassment, I would like to assure you we have zero tolerance… (That) means we take the investigation very, very seriously.’
Forty allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were made during the last three months of 2017 against U.N. peacekeeping missions, agencies, funds and programs as well as implementing partners.