UN unaware of past sexual harassment allegations against Pacific rep

By rnz.co.nz

The United Nations says it was unaware of any sexual harassment allegations against its Fiji multi-country office resident coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha from his previous role as the head of UN Belarus prior to being posted to Suva.

Sanaka Samarasinha has been placed on administrative leave since May 10. Photo: UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji

However, the UN confirmed it did receive a complaint against Samarasinha in 2021 about his time in Belarus that was “investigated and closed”.

On May 26, two weeks after Samarasinha was placed on administrative leave after the UN office in Fiji received “unsatisfactory conduct complaints” against him, Euroradio published a report alleging the top UN Pacific executive was suspected of sexual harassment nine years ago.

According to Euroradio, the allegation was that Samarasinha, as the UN Belarus resident coordinator in 2014, attempted to establish an informal relationship with a woman who was looking for a job at the UN in Belarus.

“We can confirm that before Samarasinha was posted as resident coordinator (RC) in Fiji, the UN was not aware of any allegations of sexual harassment made against him in his capacity as RC in Belarus from 2013-2018,” UN coordination office communications and results reporting chief Carolina Azevedo told RNZ Pacific.

But Azevedo confirmed the UN had received a complaint against him two years ago concerning his time in Belarus.

“In 2021, the UN received a complaint regarding his tenure in Belarus, which was investigated and closed,” Azevedo said.

No further details were provided on the nature of the complaint or the outcome.

RNZ Pacific has contacted Samarasinha for comment regarding the Belarus allegations but has not received a response.

When RNZ put the Fiji allegations to Samarasinha, he said he was “deeply disturbed” by the “extremely serious and damaging allegations” and referred all questions to the UN office.

Investigation ongoing

The current investigations – which began six weeks ago – are still ongoing, Azevedo said.

“These are standard global practices of the UN’s independent investigation mechanism, following the receipt of allegations of any type of misconduct,” she said.

“During this period, the independent investigators will be speaking to staff members as part of their regular investigative procedures.”

She said while the investigation was ongoing, the process was confidential.

“Therefore, we cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, nor can we predict its timeframe and outcome.”

Azevedo said the UN now has a standard practice when dealing with complaints relating to sexual harassment or sexual exploitation.

“Any UN personnel against whom an allegation of sexual harassment or sexual exploitation and abuse has been investigated and substantiated, or who have resigned prior to the conclusion of an investigation, are included in a centralised database to prevent re-employment across the UN system,” she added.

Asked why there was a lack of transparency by the UN around the investigations, Azevedo said: “The accountability process is subject to the UN’s internal legal framework, which provides procedural fairness right.”

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