18 February 2005
AMSTERDAM — UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers was found guilty last year of sexual harassment in a confidential report. It also accused him of unwanted sexual advances towards four other female employees, it was revealed on Friday.
The United Nation's internal investigations department OIOS found Lubbers guilty of sexual intimidation and abusing his authority. Besides one official complaint, the report said allegations from several other women indicated "a pattern of sexual harassment".
British newspaper The Independent has obtained a copy of the 15-page confidential report and the paper says that the report's findings will place renewed pressure on Lubbers to
resign as UNHCR chief. The UNHCR is responsible for relief efforts for the world's 17 million refugees.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was given a copy of the OIOS report in May 2004, but after seeking internal and external legal advice he resolved in July not to take any action against Lubbers because the allegations could not be legally proven. But he did not exonerate Lubbers and instead issued a stern warning to him.
The case surfaced after a 51-year-old American woman accused Lubbers last April of placing his hands on her waist, pulling her back towards him and pressing his groin into her. The incident took place at the end of a meeting with male colleagues in Geneva on 18 December 2003.
"Mr Lubbers did engage in unwanted physical contact with a subordinate female staff member. New allegations that came to the OIOS's attention during the investigation were also examined and indicate a pattern of sexual harassment by Mr Lubbers," the UN report found.
Four other women later told the UN inquiry that they were victims of unwanted physical contact, but refused to make official complaints. They wished to remain anonymous due to fears of "retaliation and public humiliation".
One woman told the inquiry she was invited to Lubbers' home with others to discuss work, but claims that Lubbers was alone when she arrived and he started touching her in a sexual way. She grew frightened and left the house. The other three women also complained of unwanted physical contact or unwelcome advances.
The report also claimed that "Lubbers abused his authority as high commissioner by his intense, pervasive and intimidating attempts to influence the outcome of this investigation" In particular, Lubbers was accused of writing a letter to the American woman who lodged the complaint asking her to drop the allegations, approaching witnesses and employing a lawyer to keep the matter hush-hush.
Reacting to the newspaper article, Lubbers said the OIOS report was confidential and should have remained so.
"The complaint of alleged sexual harassment filed with the OIOS could not be substantiated. I have criticised the OIOS report because it alleges 'a pattern of misconduct' without anything to substantiate this. One can only conclude that the claims of the 'other cases' are baseless," he said.
Lubbers was the longest serving prime minister in the Netherlands, heading the government from 1982 to 1994. He was appointed to the UN post in 2001 and a two-year extension of the contract means he will serve on as the UN refugee chief until the end of 2005. He has refused to resign prior to the end of the contract.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Dutch news