UN discusses future of Lubbers after report on alleged sexual harassment

Ruud Lubbers, the senior UN official engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal, has made a defiant bid to stay in office, despite the damning conclusions of a confidential report revealed in
The Independent.

Ruud Lubbers, the senior UN official engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal, has made a defiant bid to stay in office, despite the damning conclusions of a confidential report revealed in The Independent.

Mr Lubbers, who is under pressure to step down, met Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, in New York yesterday. He emerged adamant he would remain at his post as the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr Lubbers said he would stay on "working hard for my organisation and for refugees" and denied that Mr Annan had pressured him to resign. However a statement from Mr Annan's office last night said the two men had discussed Mr Lubbers' "future in the organisation," in light of published reports of sexual harassment. UN sources said Mr Lubbers might not remain in his post.

Mr Lubbers angrily denied allegations that he had harassed a subordinate. "This is made up. I think it must have just grown in her mind," he said.

"I ushered the woman out of the room with my hand on her back and that is all ... you might call it familiar, but certainly not sexual harassment."

Privately, UN staff expressed disappointment that Mr Lubbers, formerly the Dutch prime minister, has not offered to resign. A senior UN source, who preferred not to be named, said Mr Lubbers was trying to prolong his stay despite the scandal, something he has denied. He is due to step down this December.

"[Mr Lubbers met Mr Annan] to ask for an extension to his term beyond the end of this year," said the source. "He's prepared a long dossier on why he is the innocent victim in all of this and will be stating his case to [Mr] Annan." The scandal broke when allegations made by an administrative employee, 51, that she had been sexually harassed were upheld by the UN watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

She alleged that he had grabbed her and thrust his groin into her buttocks and held her in that position. Mr Lubbers has denied the allegation. But investigators established what they described as a "pattern of conduct".

Mr Annan closed the matter after taking legal advice and concluding that there was insufficient evidence and the report was buried until this week.

The UNHCR, the body responsible for marshalling the aid effort for the world's 17 million refugees, could be facing a morale crisis if the scandal is not brought to a quick close. A UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said: "No organisation can go through something like this [the allegations] and not find it difficult, especially when it involves the leader," he said.

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