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Campaigners Object to the Findings of UNFPA Internal Enquiry Report

“It should not have undertaken this administrative enquiry in the first place, when the complainant did not register her complaint with them.”
Diego Palacios

Campaigners and global women’s rights advocates have slammed UNFPA for its report on the alleged sexual harassment and abuse by its Indian representative Diego Palacios. The findings of the internal investigation by the UNFPA have concluded that the allegations against Palacios are unsubstantiated, despite establishing majority of the critical facts and circumstances.

Paula Donovan of Code Blue organisation, speaking in a press conference, said that UNFPA should not have undertaken this administrative enquiry in the first place, when the complainant did not register her complaint with them, and there was no policy within UNFPA that could have guided this investigation. The enquiry report, in fact, acknowledges that there was no policy against which the investigation could have taken place, alleged Paula, who claimed to be in possession of the 59-page report. She added, however, that the organisation will not immediately make the report public to prevent any influence on the ongoing police investigation.

Sharanya Kannikannan, legal advisor of Code Blue, told the reporters that the report is extremely detailed on how the accused, Diego Palacios, has continuously contradicted his statements, has hidden important facts regarding his visits, and has changed his positions regarding his interactions with the complainant. The contradictions in Diego's statements raise questions on his professional background as well, which in turn questions his integrity and depositions. In one instance, he told the investigators that he was on a special leave between 2014 and 2016, but investigators note that he was posted as a coordinator in Ecuador. Diego also told investigators that he travelled alone in the official car during his visit to Bihar, but investigation report notes from car log books that he was always accompanied by the Bihar Head. Such contradictions are replete in the investigation report.

The Code Blue team also told reporters that despite the denial by Palacios, they have established that he had invited the complainant to the hotel, and had ridden in an elevator with her, which was the site of alleged groping. The report also 'conclusively established' that multiple witnesses corroborated seeing the complainant in tears during and after the elevator ride, which is a very strong evidence in sexual abuse cases. The report also established that Diego had, in fact, touched the complainant and was extremely close to her on two other occasions to have committed 'stroking' and 'groping', whereas the former maintained that he had a 'prudent distance' from the complainant. 

Reacting to the report, the complainant said that she neither complained to UNFPA, nor wanted them to open their parallel investigation when police was already investigating, but had to do so to "respect the directions of my government”, who assured that it will not impede the criminal proceedings. "The report anyway does not have any legal or even quasi legal standing or jurisdiction in India, but is evident of how UN disposes off serious allegations relating to sexual crimes," said the complainant, during the press conference.

The disputed UNFPA report is again gaining global traction with various organisations condemning the findings, which are purportedly based on extremely regressive standards of proof, and allegedly intend to stall the criminal proceedings in India. The Guardian reported on August 16 that by undertaking the internal investigation and by falsely invoking immunity of accused and witnesses, UNFPA appears to be blocking the path to establish facts through police investigation. It also said that the UNFPA acknowledges that they have not been able to interview many of the key witnesses, as they did not have any authority over them, is a fact that may have influenced the findings. New York-based Inner City Press reports that Donovan met UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem earlier this year, who told the latter that she would not like to face the kind of issue that UNAIDS is facing under Michel Sidibe.

The complainant has again pleaded to the top government authorities to prevent UNFPA from influencing the criminal proceedings in any way. With this issue, UNFPA have again come under severe scrutiny by women’s rights advocates. Role of Kanem, in this alleged cover-up, will be scrutinised along the lines of UNAIDS top boss Michel Sidibe who had been globally attacked for covering up another case of sex abuse.

Meanwhile, the UNFPA report has also mentioned another complaint against Palacios. It was claimed that the report mentions Diego terming this complainant, in all probability a whistleblower, as a person "having a history of being problematic".

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