UN rights chief hails 'seismic shift' in attitudes to harassment

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Geneva (AFP)

The UN rights chief Monday hailed the ongoing "seismic shift" in public discourse about sexual harassment and abuse following a barrage of revelations about misconduct in Hollywood, Washington and beyond.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein celebrated the weight finally being given to the voices of the alleged victims, saying it was "late in coming."

A wave of scandals -- kicked off with multiple allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein -- has in a matter of weeks felled the careers of some of the most high-profile men in entertainment and the media in the United States.

Politicians in the United States, France and Britain have also faced serious allegations of misconduct while a social media campaign with the #MeToo hashtag has drawn millions of posts.

"It is a seismic shift," Zeid told AFP in an interview.

"Clearly this is now a movement that will create a different way of thinking about these issues," he said, insisting that harassment and abuse were "not issues to be brushed aside or to be kept as open secrets," and stressing the need to "ensure responsibility where its due and support to victims."

"Society in general ? has needed to come to grips with the abuse of power relationships and that harassment is just unacceptable in any form, in any form."

Zeid said he supported bringing all such cases out into the open.

"It is something we must look at worldwide."

He acknowledged the UN had intensified its own discussions about preventing harassment and abuse in the workplace.

"I'm sure that you will find in governments, as well as in international organisations, including the UN, that (cases) will emerge in time," he said, adding "I don't think the UN is a special province of human behaviour."