Diplomacy

Former UN Adviser Accused of Sexual Harassment, India Says It's Not an MEA Matter

At least eight men have accused Ravi Karkara of “using his prestige and position to sexually harass them”.

New Delhi: A senior advisor to a former UN assistant secretary general has been accused of using his position to sexually harass at least eight men. The United Nations has still not been able to complete probe after initial complaints, two major investigative media reports said this week.

On Tuesday, Newsweek, followed by Guardian, were the first to identify the accused as Ravi Karkara, who was the senior adviser to former UN assistant secretary general and deputy executive director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri. A former Indian diplomat, She left the UN in January this year after her husband, Hardeep Puri became Union minister of state for housing and urban affairs.

According to US magazine, at least eight men have accused Ravi Karkara of “using his prestige and position to sexually harass them”.

When contacted by The Wire, UN Women sources did not confirm his name, but confirmed that Karkara has been placed on administrative leave. 

The articles quote two international human rights activists, Mandy Sanghera and Kerry Gibson, on the allegations related to Karkara. According to Newsweek, Gibson had filed a complaint against Sanghera, along with a victim. Sanghera was made aware of these allegations by a former UN official and also spoke to several of the alleged victims, Newsweek states.

Another activist, Aashish Khullar, the former organising partner of UN Major Group for Children and Youth, also confirmed to Newsweek that some young members had approached him with complaints against Karkara. He claimed to have spoken to “seven or eight” young men who reported sexual harassment.

While UN women issued a statement in December 2017 to publicly acknowledge the allegations of “sexual misconduct” against “one of its staff members” for first time, the investigation had apparently begun in June 2017 after the first official complaint was filed.

According to Newsweek and Guardian, the allegations range from obscene gestures at the workplace, sending pornography links, sending messages to the young men to masturbate and asking them questions of a sexual nature.

Newsweek‘s report said that Karkara‘s alleged victims kept quite for a long time fearing retaliation.

The Wire has asked for comments from Karkara, who has not replied. This article will be updated once a response is received. Lakshmi Puri, who is currently travelling, and other former current and former UN Women officials were not available for comment.

Sanghera and Gibson told Newsweek the probe actually began almost six months before the news release, in June 2017, when the office of audit and investigation interviewed the first alleged victim. 

It effectively means that it has been over a year since the probe began by UNDP’s OAI, which is an inordinately long period of time to conduct an investigation.

Despite the complaints made last year, Karkara was still working in August 2017 when he gave a keynote address at UN youth assembly.

Following the publication of the reports, Sanghera and Gibson noted on their Twitter accounts that they had to face a lot of challenges in pursuing the complaints against Karkara.

Sanghera noted that she was especially told during she should show more soliKardarity with Karkara as they were both Indians.

On August 8, after the media reports came out, UN Women issued a statement that the investigation by OAI was “nearing completion”. It also called for “the speedy finalisation of the investigation process”.

Without taking Karkara’s name, the statement said that if required, UN Women will initiate disciplinary process under the organisation’s guidelines. This include “charging the subject, terminating the contract, and, if appropriate, imposing a sanction”.

It also added that case could be referred to national authorities if required.

On Thursday, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that India was aware of the case, but added that “this is not directly related to the ministry of external affairs”. To another question, he added that the accused was “an Indian national, but a UN civil servant”.

As Karkara has diplomatic immunity as an UN official, sources noted that the UN cannot start any criminal proceedings. “In such circumstances if anyone initiates criminal action usually either immunity can be waived, or UN can ask country of origin to initiate criminal proceedings,” he said.

According to Indian government sources, no UN entities have so far approached Indian authorities in relation with the investigation.

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