Sweden freezes support to UNAIDS over bullying and harassment claims

Sweden freezes support to UNAIDS over bullying and harassment claims
Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. Photo: Erlend Aas / NTB scanpix / TT
Sweden said on Wednesday it was freezing its support to UNAIDS until its executive director is removed, after an expert report blasted the agency's leadership for systematically failing to address bullying, abuse and sexual harassment.

The Swedish government has no confidence in Michel Sidibe to lead the organisation, a spokesman for the ministry for international development cooperation told AFP, confirming reports in local media.

“We have no confidence in him. He has to resign now,” International Development Cooperation Minister Isabella Lövin told daily Svenska Dagbladet, adding: “We've even told him so personally”.

An expert report released last week said UNAIDS, founded to coordinate the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, was “broken” due to “defective leadership” and accused Sidibe of overseeing a work environment that tolerated sexual harassment and abuse.

It said a “cult of personality” surrounding the executive director saw benefits doled out as favours by Sidibe and his cadre of top allies.

It also said Sidibe, a Malian national who has headed the agency for nine years, “accepted no responsibility” for anything that had gone wrong under his watch.

“For… UNAIDS to regain a culture of dignity and respect, a change in leadership has become necessary,” the report said.

Lövin said the report showed the organisation suffered from “dysfunctional leadership”.

“Sweden is therefore not prepared to make any further payments to UNAIDS until he's gone, and a new leadership with restored confidence is in place.”

Sweden is the second biggest contributor to UNAIDS after the United States, paying 2.6 billion kronor ($285 million, 251 million euros) since 2009.

For 2018, the Scandinavian country contributed 314 million kronor.

“For 2019 no money has been earmarked as long as this leadership remains in place,” Lövin said.

With activists demanding immediate change, pressure is mounting on UN chief Antonio Guterres to sack Sidibe.

On Tuesday, Sidibe proposed staying on until at least mid-2019, possibly even until the end of his mandate in January 2020.

“That is not acceptable for us,” Lövin said, adding: “This should not be up to him.”

“It would be a failing grade for the entire international community if we are not able to ensure that leadership and organisations work better. It wouldn't be good for the UN system either if he stays on. We expect action to be taken,” she said.

Lövin said she was confident Guterres would “make the wise decision and remove Sidibe.” 

READ ALSO: The infected years: when HIV came to Sweden

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