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UN Refugee Chief Resigns Over Sexual Harassment Allegations

In his letter to Kofi Annan, the U.N. Refugee Chief, Ruud Lubbers blamed unsubstantiated leaks to the media and ongoing media pressure for his decision to resign. He said that he had given more than four years of his energy to the UNHCR. But, despite all his loyalty, insult had now been added to injury and therefore he was resigning.

Mr. Lubbers referred to a confidential UN internal report dated last June, which found that he had engaged in sexual harassment. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, however, rejected the report.

The text of the report resurfaced at the end of last week. The Independent, a British newspaper printed in its Friday edition the first detailed description of charges made by the woman who had filed the complaint. The article also included statements from four other women who claimed they had been sexually harassed by Mr. Lubbers, although they did not file official complaints.

Mr. Lubbers maintains, however, that the sexual harassment complaint was unsubstantiated.

A spokeswoman for the Refugee Office, Jennifer Pagonis, told VOA Mr. Lubbers will be missed. "I can say it is an extremely sad day for all of us here at UNHCR. The High Commissioner has devoted the last four years of his life to really provide solutions for refugees and he has been an extraordinarily dedicated high commissioner. So, it is very sad it has come to this," she said.

In his letter of resignation, Mr. Lubbers noted the UN watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, came up empty-handed in its investigation and invented a fear of retaliation.

Ms. Pagonis said there was no retaliation against the accuser. "The woman who filed the complaint still continues to work for UNHCR in Geneva and, no, there has been absolutely no retaliation against her whatsoever. That would be completely against the principles of UNHCR," she said.

Mr. Lubbers, who is 65, was the longest-serving postwar prime minister of the Netherlands. He is married and has three children.