UNFPA sexual harassment case: US activists seek Akbaruddin's intervention

Patna, June 16 (IANS) Two respected US women rights campaigners have asked India's Permanent Representative at the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, for action against a senior UNFPA representative in India who has been accused by the organisation's former contractor Prashanti Tiwari of sexual harassment and abuse.

Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis, co-directors of the Code Blue campaign that tracks sexual abuse worldwide, in a letter to Akbarbuddin, have requested action against UNFPA's, "egregious disrespect for the principle of sovereign power and the rule of law". IANS has a copy of the letter.

A former UNFPA contractor in Bihar, Tiwari has levelled sexual and criminal charges against the senior UNFPA official and a local staffer. A criminal complaint under sections 354, 507 and 509 of the Indian Penal Code was registered in Patna in February 2018. However, there has been little progress in the investigation as UNFPA has insulated the two accused and a key witness from the police, citing "immunity" from any criminal and legal proceedings.

Amidst growing public anger against UNFPA and inaction by the police, the Bihar government sought written permission from the Ministry of External Affairs to allow interrogation of the two UNFPA officials and other key witnesses.

While UNFPA responded in writing to the MEA on May 11, 2018, (IANS has a copy of the letter). It has denied permission to interrogate the two accused and said that a key witness can only be quizzed on it premises.

The Code Blue letter to Akbaruddin says that the condition imposed by UNFPA does not allow for a fair and proper police investigation. "Allowing a single interview with a key witness, devoid of confidentiality, supervised by the subordinate staff of the accused, makes a mockery of the UN's obligation to safeguard the interest of justice," Donovan and Lewis write.

Meanwhile, complainant Tiwari has objected to what she says is a UNFPA security officer influencing the Investigation Officer of Bihar Police. She says this happened after she revealed important evidence to the UNFPA investigators currently reviewing the case. On its part, the MEA has instructed the Bihar Police to refrain from directly dealing with the UNFPA without its authorisation.

Donovan and Lewis also pointed out to Akbaruddin that UNFPA audaciously claims that the "key witness has already been extensively interviewed by (its) OAIS (Office of Audit and Investigation Services)".

"It was grossly inappropriate to conduct extensive interviews of the key witness before the Indian police had that opportunity," Donovan and Lewis say.

While the #StandWithPrashanti campaign going global with press conferences organised in London and campaigners in America calling for action by India, the case has come to standstill as UNFPA has not disclosed the outcome of the investigation it says it conducted and neither has it disclosed this to the MEA.



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