UNFPA sexual harassment case: Internal probe says allegations unsubstantiated

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Patna : An internal probe by the UNFPA has refuted the sexual harassment claims made by an Indian activist against a top-ranking India representative of the UN organisation.

Prashanti Tiwari, an Indian activist globally known for her work against child marriage, had alleged sexual harassment and abuse by her senior Diego Palacios during his visit to Bihar in March 2017, and proceeded with registering a criminal complaint with the police.

Paula Donovan, Global Women Rights Campaigner and co-director of Code Blue which tracks instances of sexual harassment by UN personnel and impunity for sexual crime, has "rubbished" the findings of the internal investigation by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as a "cover up" against allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against its senior official Diego Palacios, representative India.

The internal investigation body of the UNFPA has concluded its investigation and provided the redacted report to the complainant on August 10.

The 59-page report by the UNFPA Office of Audits and Investigation (OAIS), claimed to be in possession by Code Blue, was an outcome of an internal administrative fact-finding exercise.

The organisation clarified that it is not making the document public immediately to prevent any potential influence on police investigation and to prevent witnesses from being influenced or coerced by UNFPA.

Code Blue alleges that the OAIS has established that the accused Diego Palacios had in fact touched the complainant during a public event and had made an 'unwarranted' entry into her office space.

Moreover, OAIS also established through the fact finding exercise that Diego Palacios had in fact invited Tiwari to a hotel and went in an elevator with her where the alleged groping took place.

Further, OAIS 'conclusively established' that Tiwari wept and cried bitterly in the elevator as well as post the ride, and that this fact was contemporaneously established.

"Despite the establishment of these very strong facts, OAIS conclusion of allegations as unsubstantiated is a cover up by UNFPA to prevent its reputation from further damage in a case that has generated huge public interest globally", said a representative of Code Blue in a press conference on Thursday, joined by news reporters from Geneva, New York and India.

Code Blue alleged that the timing of the publication of this extremely erroneous and contradictory report, and its dispatch to the Government of India is evidence of the attempt by this UN Body to quash the police proceedings, which UNFPA had been stalling all throughout.

Speaking during the press conference, Prashanti Tiwari, reacting to the OAIS findings, said: "I never registered my complaint with UNFPA and was not prepared to even record my statement with them but respected the direction of Ministry of External Affairs, which assured me that this will not impede the police investigation."

Responding to the query of IANS, it was confirmed that the OAIS report acknowledges the fact Tiwari had refused to give her statement to UNFPA on two occasions, and also notes that the report actually confirms that there was no policy at UNFPA against which Tiwari's allegations could be investigated.

It was also noted that OAIS was determined to open the investigation to "provide Palacios an opportunity to respond".

Sharanya Kannikannan, the legal expert with Code Blue, fumed at UNFPA for reaching this erroneous conclusion based on extremely 'regressive' standard of proof that requires witnesses to actually testify that they have seen the act with their eyes, a standard that is not applied in even the least developed countries.

"UNFPA that claims to advocate with member states on raising the judicial standards for protecting the rights of women, itself practices such retrograde standards is shocking and not at all acceptable", said Kannikannan.