Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN AIDS Agency Fires Whistleblower After Misconduct Probe

FILE - This file photo dated April 8, 2019 shows the headquarters building of UNAIDS in Geneva, Switzerland.
FILE - This file photo dated April 8, 2019 shows the headquarters building of UNAIDS in Geneva, Switzerland.

The United Nations' AIDS agency has fired two staffers for financial and sexual misconduct, including a whistleblower whose allegations of being sexually assaulted sparked months of turmoil at the organization.

Last March, Martina Brostrom publicly accused a senior UNAIDS director of forcibly kissing her and trying to drag her out of a Bangkok elevator in 2015. She also said he had sexually harassed her on other occasions.

But before those allegations became public, Brostrom herself and a supervisor were being investigated by U.N. officials for their own sexual and financial misconduct, as revealed in an Associated Press story in April.

Internal documents obtained by the AP showed U.N. officials had "evidence" Brostrom and a supervisor had taken part in "fraudulent practices and misuse of travel funds." Among other charges, the two were reprimanded for "abusing U.N. privileges by requesting special U.N. rates for the purpose of booking hotels for sexual encounters."

Brostrom said that she was fired from UNAIDS last week in an act of retaliation.

"I spoke up about what happened to me and what was happening in UNAIDS. As a consequence, I have suffered tremendously," she said in a statement.

Brostrom was credited by some for starting a (hash)MeToo movement at the U.N. and her complaint that she was sexually assaulted led to two inquiries — a U.N. investigation that concluded there was insufficient evidence to support her claims and an independent assessment of the agency's management that found a culture of impunity and "defective leadership."

In an email on Saturday that did not identify Brostrom by name, agency spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott said that "two staff members were dismissed from UNAIDS after an independent investigation concluded beyond reasonable doubt that they had misused UNAIDS corporate funds and resources and had engaged in other misconduct, including sexual misconduct."

Barton-Knott said the investigation began eight months before one staffer filed allegations of being sexually assaulted. She said any claims the employee was fired as payback for lodging her sexual assault claims were "baseless and misleading."

The ongoing scandals have been a damaging distraction for UNAIDS, an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded U.N. efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.