UNAIDS reopens sexual assault probe into top official

Geneva (AFP) –


UNAIDS has reopened a sexual assault investigation into a top official after a heavily criticised earlier probe cleared him of wrongdoing, a letter seen by AFP on Friday showed.

Former UNAIDS deputy executive director Luiz Loures has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by Martina Brostrom, who is also an employee of the Geneva-based agency.

The original investigation into the alleged 2015 assault, conducted by the World Health Organization's Office of Internal Oversight Services, exonerated Loures.

The finding was condemned by legal experts and activists, including the campaign group Code Blue, which has brought public attention to the Loures case.

A letter written by UNAIDS deputy executive director Joel Rehnstrom and sent to AFP by Code Blue said UNAIDS had decided to "suspend" the January finding clearing Loures.

"I have been made aware of the views of the (UN) Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) that it would be in the interest of the organisation to re-open the investigation in light of additional allegations reported against Dr. Loures," the letter said.

In recent weeks another former senior UNAIDS official, Malayah Harper, has also publicly accused Loures of sexual assault.

Other women have anonymously made allegations against Loures to multiple media outlets.

The UNAIDS letter said that the new probe will be conducted by a different body, the Office of Internal Oversight Services at UN headquarters in New York.

Rehnstrom said that no one at UNAIDS "will be involved in making decisions in this case," in an apparent attempt to address a main criticism of the first inquiry.

Campaigners said that the odds were stacked against Brostrom in the first probe, questioning whether an internal UNAIDS probe could credibly judge allegations against one the agency's longest-serving and most powerful executives.

UNAIDS said the new probe will be judged by the head of the World Health Organization, whose body holds administrative oversight over UNAIDS.

The Loures case has sparked a broader crisis at UNAIDS and put pressure on the overall head of the agency, Michel Sidibe.

Sidibe has been accused of sheltering multiple men accused of serious wrongdoing.

UNAIDS announced in February that Loures would leave the agency at the end of March.

But UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott told AFP this week that Loures's term will in fact expire on Monday and that the prolongation occurred for "administrative reasons" linked to Loures's retirement age.