What Happens When Rights are Violated Within the UN?
Kingston Rhodes,accused of sexual harassment by four women, has been appointed to yet another high office
Across the world, the United Nations has been recognised as an ideal centre for governments to come together to protect and defend human rights. But what happens when these 'rights' are being violated within the walls of the UN?
The UN's much-talked about 'zero-tolerance policy' on sexual harassment has become a matter of ridicule with the recent naming of Kingston Rhodes to the pension committee of the Association of Former International Civil Servants, a charter member of FAFICS (Federation of Associations of Former International Civil Servants), and thus represented in the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board.
Rhodes, who earlier served as the Chairman of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which regulates salaries and working conditions for staff members across the UN was in 2017, accused of sexual harassment by four women, including Sri Lankan UN staffer Shihana Mohamed.
Mohamed had then claimed that she was sexually harassed by Rhodes, for over 10 years, while working as the Human Resources Policies Officer at the ICSC, and that she was not the only one. She said that because she had said no to his repeated sexual advances, Rhodes denied her promotions, excluded her from duty travels, training and projects and created a highly stressful workplace environment for her.
Antonia Kirkland, the Legal Equality Global lead at Equality Now, an NGO that promotes women's rights, who had been following Shihana's case since the allegations surfaced said, "Shihana's allegations seemed to be credible and we wrote to the Secretary General. His Chef de Cabinet wrote back to us and said that the allegations were indeed 'credible' and that they had taken a certain number of measures. But in 2018, Rhodes was still in his position. The International Service Commission didn't take any action until the end of 2018.
Rhodes resigned two weeks before he was due to retire in December 201. Presumably, there was some pressure because the allegations were found to be credible. But he wasn't fired as he should have been. He was allowed to resign. Shockingly now almost four years later, he's back in this affiliated organisation. Though not exactly a UN agency, they take care of the pensions of former staff.
Even though it's a volunteer position, it seems to be a very high profile and powerful sort of position, where he could be interacting with the official pension committee of the UN and could have some say over the pensions of staff members and the complainant that we've worked with. She's going to be retiring potentially while he's still on the committee. We know that there were other complainants in his case, so he could also be dealing with their financial matters too."
According to Kirkland, "Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should speak up about this because his zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment should not end when the perpetrators are within the UN. The perpetrator should not be allowed to come back and interact closely with the Secretary General's staff. So we wrote to him and asked them to speak up about it. They wrote back to us saying it was out of their jurisdiction. They do have jurisdiction over her though."
She added that it was "very disappointing because the UN had actually taken a survey and found out that there really was a culture of abuse and sexual harassment and it seemed like they were going to do the right thing. The report released in 2019 showed that a third of the staff felt some sort of harassment and that there were steps going to be taken. But then they let it slide when it came to this issue because the perpetrator wasn't formally part of the system."
Shihana Mohamed said, "I am absolutely disgusted that he is allowed to return to such a position, despite the fact that the allegations were found to be credible."
"Within the UN, this has had a chilling effect. If nothing is happening, who is motivated to report? It took years, and when there finally is a finding in your favour and still nothing happens, people won't be motivated to speak up, especially if they potentially face retaliation. It is certainly your right to not be harassed sexually, and the UN really needs to be a model for all our workplaces," Antonia Kirkland, told The Citizen.