The United Nations' top electoral expert who oversaw successful elections in Iraq and Afghanistan will be fired for management lapses in a department that was accused of encouraging sexual harassment to flourish, a senior U.N. official said.
Carina Perelli, 48, a Uruguayan national whose role in Iraq was praised by President Bush in his 2005 State of the Union address, presided over one of the world body's most prestigious departments. She recently returned from Iraq, where she played a role in helping to prepare a successful October referendum on the country's new constitution.
Perelli indicated in an interview that she has not been served with the standard dismissal letter. But the senior U.N. official said that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had made the decision to let her go in the past couple of weeks. Stephane Dujarric, Annan's chief spokesman, would not provide a statement on the matter.
Perelli's stewardship of the U.N. elections unit came under scrutiny in December, after some of her employees complained of management shortcomings. A 22-page review of her department, carried out by a Swiss consulting firm, concluded that the leadership tolerated sexual harassment, misused office funds and engaged in favoritism.
The report, based on interviews with 29 current and former workers, said Perelli was "admired for her personal courage, for her knowledge of the issues and her willingness to share that knowledge." But it faulted her for permitting the creation of an "offensive" work environment where employees were subject to unwanted sexual advances and "a constant sexual innuendo is part of the fabric" of daily life.
The report triggered an internal review by the U.N. personnel department, which outlined allegations "relating to management and harassment issues." But Perelli was cleared of allegations of financial impropriety.
Perelli, who has previously declined to comment publicly on the proceedings, said in a brief telephone interview from her home: "I'm totally unaware of this development. . . . I can't comment on them till I know."
U.N. officials said she can appeal her dismissal before the organization's Joint Disciplinary Committee and the U.N. Administrative Tribunal, which has the power to overrule Annan. Her firing was first reported Saturday by the Associated Press.
Perelli has an independent streak that frequently roiled her superiors. She was rebuked by the U.N. chief's office in January after she publicly criticized the U.S. military for handing out get-out-the-vote fliers before Iraq's election. "The U.S. military have been extremely, I would say, overenthusiastic in trying to help out with this election," she told reporters.
But she often received praise from U.S. and British officials. Emyr Jones Parry, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, credited Perelli with doing "a terrific job" in Iraq, the AP reported.