Indian at UN gender equality agency faces action for 'sexual misconduct'

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Sep 02, 2018, 05:45 PM IST

File photo. Photograph:(Zee News Network)

An investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against an Indian national employed in the UN agency for gender equality and women empowerment has been completed and steps have been taken to initiate "appropriate action" against him.

While the Office of Audit and Investigation of UNDP did not identify the Indian national, sexual misconduct allegations were levelled last month against Ravi Karkara, Senior Advisor on Strategic Partnerships and Advocacy to the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director at UN Women.

UN Women, in a statement dated August 24, said its Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has "taken immediate steps to initiate appropriate action.''

"She is committed to ensuring that UN Women focuses on a survivor-centred approach in concluding this matter as quickly as possible," the statement said.

It added that the Executive Director appointed earlier this year Purna Sen as Executive Coordinator on Sexual Harassment to engage with survivors so that they are supported in a range of areas.

"While accountability is indispensable, UN Women stands ready to support victims through counselling, psychosocial support and legal assistance," the UN Women statement said.

Ms Sen had told PTI earlier that zero tolerance to sexual exploitation and abuse must be strictly followed and practiced and that those who show the courage to speak out against abuses should not feel judged.

She also added that the UN agency wants to change the dynamics and culture in which men and women feel that their position of seniority and authority entitles them sexually to other more junior staff, interns and young people.

The UN Women statement did not give details about the nature of "appropriate action" being taken.

According to the agency's legal policy, several disciplinary and non-disciplinary proceedings such as written censure, loss of one or more steps in grade, dismissal or administrative leave can be imposed on the individual depending on the nature and gravity of the misconduct in which the staff member has engaged.

Ravi Karkara was under investigation for sexual misconduct after at least eight men had accused him of using his prestige and position to sexually harass them, five sources with knowledge of the investigation had told Newsweek.

A UN spokesperson had also confirmed to PTI last month that the individual under investigation was Ravi Karkara. As reports of the allegations against Ravi Karkara surfaced early last month, a UN Women spokesperson had said the agency "cannot confirm nor deny the subject's name" and it cannot comment on any specifics of the case, as that could harm the investigation and disciplinary process.

UN Women had said it aimed to be as transparent as possible while ensuring that the integrity of the investigative, and disciplinary process, if any, is safeguarded.

UN Women had said back in December 2017 that it received allegations of sexual misconduct involving one of its staff members, again not naming Ravi Karkara.

According to Newsweek, Steve Lee, a 25-year-old policy activist, who has addressed the United Nations and was a member of the Major Group for Children and Youth, is among the men accusing Ravi Karkara of misconduct.

Mr Lee said he first met Ravi Karkara in 2009 when he was a 16-year-old delegate for UNICEF. In 2016, Mr Lee said Ravi Karkara invited him to join a policy working group he co-chaired.

He alleges that Karkara asked him "inappropriate sexual questions", and during one instance he grabbed Lee by his genitals through his pants, according to the Newsweek report.

"He does this with a lot of young men, and I don't really think it's sexual favours he's looking for," Mr Lee said in the report.

"He enjoys the fact that he's at a position of such high authority that he can do this and they can't really do anything about it."

The Newsweek article added that two of Ravi Karkara's former subordinates said this was a common occurrence where he followed minute developments in young staffers' social media profiles, demanding credit and gratitude, snapping at them if he was not invited to an event, thanked on a program, mentioned in an article or named to a panel. He would grab their phone or device and log in to their email, social media or internet search histories, Mr Lee said.

According to his profile, Ravi Karkara has worked with UN Women, UNICEF, Save the Children among others.