Embattled UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe gestures during a press conference held in Paris, France, Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Sidibe has said he will not quit his job over criticism of his handling of sexual harassment allegations at the Geneva-based agency. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

UNAIDS chief says won't quit over agency harassment claims

July 18, 2018 - 12:07 pm

PARIS (AP) — The embattled UNAIDS chief said Wednesday he will not quit his post over criticism of his handling of sexual harassment allegations at the Geneva-based agency.

"I need to deliver on my job," Michel Sidibe said in response to questions from The Associated Press during a Paris press conference amid calls for his resignation.

He spoke while presenting a U.N. report that sounds the alarm that momentum in fighting HIV/AIDS might be insufficient to meet the target of ending the virus epidemic by 2030.

"I don't back away from difficult issues," Sidibe said. "Civil society is making me accountable ... to have a transparent organization, a clear organization protective of women and victims, and that I will do."

The 66-year-old from Mali has denied claims he tried to force a lower-level employee, Martina Brostrom, to drop allegations she was sexually assaulted by former deputy Luiz Loures.

But Sidibe on Wednesday acknowledged that he likely had made errors.

"I am like any human being. I made probably some mistakes and it was not intentional," he said, without elaborating.

Brostrom has alleged Loures forcibly kissed and grabbed her in a Bangkok hotel elevator in May 2015, claims that Loures has denied. The World Health Organization office that investigated concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the sexual harassment accusation and no evidence of sexual assault.

The AP does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. However, Brostrom spoke to the media this year after a WHO panel accepted the investigators' recommendation to close the case.

Critics including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation have called for Sidibe's resignation amid claims that UNAIDS hasn't done enough to protect female employees against harassment.

They have also pointed out that UNAIDS purports to protect the rights of women — the group that is the most vulnerable to the virus the agency hopes to help eradicate.

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