By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 19, 2005
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 18 -- The U.N.'s top electoral official, Carina Perelli, was accused by the U.N.'s personnel department of presiding over an office that tolerated sexual harassment of staff, U.N. officials said Thursday. But Perelli, 48, a Uruguayan elections expert, was cleared of allegations that she misused U.N. funds.
The findings represented a major professional blow for an official who had won praise from President Bush for her role in preparing for national elections in Iraq. If the findings are not overturned by appeal, Perelli could face disciplinary actions, including dismissal.
Stephane Dujarric, chief spokesman for the United Nations, said Perelli received an Aug. 4 letter from the U.N. human resources office outlining accusations "relating to management and harassment issues in the electoral affairs division." Perelli, who declined a request for comment through a subordinate, responded in writing last Friday. The United Nations would not release her statement.
The former U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, Kieran Prendergast, contracted with a consulting firm in December to review Perelli's department following staff complaints about working conditions. The Swiss firm Mannet SARL concluded that Perelli exhibited favoritism for a small "inner circle" of employees while creating a workplace that was "abusive" and "offensive" for others.
The 22-page February report, which drew from interviews with 29 current and former U.N. employees, expressed admiration for Perelli's "personal courage" and her extensive knowledge of international elections.
But it said Perelli fostered an "offensive" work environment in which "sexual innuendo is part of the fabric" of the work day. It cited unnamed employees who asserted that Perelli considered a "steady stream of sexual jokes, references and behaviors" at work "conducive to collegiality."
The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight, which investigates financial abuses, conducted a separate investigation into allegations that Perelli's department misused money for unjustifiable travel expenses. Dujarric said the oversight office concluded in late July that there was no "basis" for continuing its investigation.