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U.N. Report Alleges Sexual Harassment by Official

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page A25

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 18 -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan increased pressure on the United Nations' top refugee official, Ruud Lubbers, to resign Friday as new allegations of sexual harassment by the former Dutch prime minister emerged from an internal investigation into misconduct.

Lubbers, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, vowed to remain on the job until his five-year term expires at the end of the year, saying that he had been unfairly accused of harassing women at the refugee agency.

"I am working hard for my organization and will continue to do so," he told reporters after meeting with Annan and his chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown. "Let me state that UNHCR and its high commissioner is not a liability. It is an asset."

The 15-page report by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services described a "pattern of sexual harassment" against female employees by Lubbers, who oversees the assistance for about 20 million refugees in 120 countries.

It also charged Lubbers, 65, of abusing his authority with "intense, pervasive and intimidating attempts to influence the outcome of this investigation."

The contents of the report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, were first reported Friday in the London Independent.

Annan had previously rejected the report's findings and closed the case, saying the "complaints could not be substantiated by the evidence." But Annan's closest aides have grown increasingly concerned that the allegations are undercutting the organization's efforts to restore its battered reputation.

The United Nations has been confronting several crippling scandals, including revelations of corruption in the U.N.-administered oil-for-food program and charges of widespread sexual abuse of women and children by U.N. peacekeepers in Congo.

Lubbers told reporters that he and Annan had discussed the "accumulation of problems on his plate" but that the U.N. chief "didn't ask me to resign."

After Lubber's comments, Annan's spokesman released a statement saying the "main focus" of the discussion "was Mr. Lubbers future in the organization, particularly in light of recent developments -- including today's press coverage."

The sexual harassment investigation was launched in May 2004, after a 51-year-old woman filed a complaint against Lubbers, alleging that he grabbed her by the waist at the end of a December 2003, meeting in Geneva and pressed his groin against her.

But the United Nations' top investigator, Dileep Nair of Singapore, turned up instances of sexual harassment by four other women, according to the report. The women, who said they feared "retaliation and public humiliation," declined to file formal complaints against Lubbers.

Lubbers said that the initial allegation was "made up" and that a "friendly gesture" had "grown in her mind" into sexual misconduct. Asked by a male reporter to reenact the gesture, Lubbers placed his arm around his lower back.


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