UN Women has just concluded a fifteen month long investigation into a sexual misconduct case against staffer Ravi Karkara. He has been dismissed from service and prohibited from employment within the United Nations system, which is the strongest disciplinary measure available within the UN Staff Regulations and Rules.
When the United Nations — which is our protector of Human Rights — and when UN Women in particular falls short of standing by victims, we need to ponder on how do we go from here and fix a broken system.
It is shocking that the process of investigation took so long even though eight victims came forward to support the claims. It took the press putting pressure on the UN system to finally “conclude” the case. It is unfortunate that UN Women, the custodian of women’s rights in the UN system, has a work culture that could promote such an abuser and have no checks and balances in place to identify such behaviour.
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has committed to a zero tolerance policy towards violence against women and girls. In this particular case, the survivors were young men, which gives us reason to pause and reflect on whether our responses to male survivors is different from female survivors.
For one, I am part of several what’s app groups, set up by Karkara for gender activists, youth working on Sustainable Development Goals and gender and youth activists in India. This case divided many in the group as Karkara was a larger than life figure and mentor to several members. Even though, some of the survivors who had put forward the complaint were part of the group, their stories were ignored and people were disbelieving of their claims. It was a reminder that as activists, we have our own biases and our personal opinions can severely affect our judgement and dissolve our impartiality.
there should be checks and balances within the work culture to ensure no discrimination
Second, this is not the first or only case of sexual violence, abuse and harassment in the UN System. “If you report it, your career is pretty much over, especially if you’re a consultant,” said one consultant, who alleged she was harassed by her supervisor while working for the World Food Programme. “It’s like an unsaid thing.”
This culture of silence and a flawed grievance system promotes confidence amongst perpetrators as they believe they will get away with their abuse. Several women who have complained about abuse have said that their perpetrators are allowed to stay on in their positions and are able to influence investigations. In this particular case too, there are accusations that people surrounding Karkara, were intimidating the victims and made several efforts to scuttle the investigation.
When the United Nations — which is our protector of Human Rights — and when UN Women in particular falls short of standing by victims, we need to ponder on how do we go from here and fix a broken system. These are my suggestions.
>There should be a time bound period for an investigation. 15 months or more is unacceptable and is unfair to both the accused and the accusers.
>The process itself must be transparent. There should be a neutral body from a Civil Society Organisation that ensures fairness.
>The survivors must be given psycho-social help throughout the process. Further, no effort must be made to discredit their claims. The investigation if done properly, will determine if their claims were true or false.
>If the accused is proven guilty, the UN must not protect the person from criminal proceedings or provide diplomatic immunity as it would defeat the entire process for justice.
>Finally, there should be checks and balances within the work culture to ensure no discrimination, intimidation or abuse is perpetrated.
Lastly, Purna Sen, UN Women’s Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Addressing Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination, should use the momentum from this case to fast track the other complaints and bring in a cultural change that is safe and equal to all employees.
Views are the author’s own