By Arul Louis
United Nations, Feb 22 (IANS) The immunity against prosecution for the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) staff accused of harassment in India can only be lifted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as the allegations do not involve sexual abuse, his Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric clarified on Wednesday.
Explaining his statement on Tuesday that UN employees have no immunity in cases involving crimes including sexual abuse, Dujarric said he had “stated the general UN principle about the immunity of its staff around the world”.
Regarding the allegations against the UNFPA staff, he said: “What is important to remember (is that) this case does not involve allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment. It is different issue. So it does not involve issues we discussed yesterday.”
In this particular case, Dujarric said: “The UNFPA India has already responded to the Ministry of External Affairs that the immunity of UN staff can be waived only by the UN Secretary-General.”
His remarks on Tuesday were a response to a question about a contractor for the UNFPA in Bihar accusing the organisation’s senior staff in India of “harassment”.
UN staff charged with crimes and sexual abuse do not have UN immunity, Dujarric had said. “Sexual abuse is a crime and immunity is not there to protect people who commit crimes.
The allegations against the UNFPA staff do not involve sexual abuse but are only of “harassment” and “mental and verbal abuse”, which may not of themselves be considered criminal offences.
Prashanti Tiwary, a contractor for UNFPA, had complained to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj about the alleged harassment by UNFPA staff and asked for her intervention to have their legal immunity waived so she could sue them.
Tiwary had accused a senior staff member of the UNFPA of “harassing” her and also said that two other UNFPA staffers subjected her to “mental and verbal abuse”, according to media reports.
“The UNFPA has also informed the Ministry that, although the claimant has never been employed by the UNFPA, she is welcome to make her claim of misconduct to the the UNFPA Office of Audit and Investigation, which will investigate the matter,” Dujarric said.
“The facilities for filing claims with the office are publicly available on the UNFPA website.”
Attempts to get a response from the UNFPA in New Delhi was not successful.
But Nadeem Noor, the head of UNFPA in Bihar, told IANS on Wednesday that he had been on leave for last 15 days and, therefore, was not aware of any such development.
“We will look into the report if there is any such issue,” he said.
Tiwary wrote in her letter to Swaraj that she was harassed after she provided “evidence” of “religious intolerance” and “sexual harassment” during a deposition before a UNFPA human resource mission in 2017, reports said.
Tiwary is the architect of Bandhan Tod — a campaign against child marriage in Bihar to save the future of young girls.
She is also the manager of Gender Alliance, a collective of over 270 charities which attracted international attention for its efforts to empower young girls through the Bandhan Tod strategy.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com)