UN gender equality official accused of being a ‘predator’ amid hushed internal harassment probe
Last December, UN Women, the agency responsible for women’s empowerment and equality, published a low-key statement mentioning that an investigation had been opened into an unnamed official. The Newsweek report now claims that the man is India-born Ravi Karkara, who worked as senior adviser to the former deputy executive director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, until recently.
Karkara remains on leave while collecting full pay. Meanwhile, several officials have been putting pressure on the organization to complete the probe and reform its internal practices.
According to Newsweek, which spoke to several lawyers and activists familiar with the case, as well as to one of the alleged victims, “the sexual misconduct accusations against Karkara include touching or grabbing a subordinate’s genitals in a hotel room, using work devices to send pornography and follow-up questions to male subordinates, creating a climate of sexual innuendo and obscene gestures in the workplace, and using his position and access as leverage to initiate sexual encounters.” They concern “at least seven or eight men” who have admitted being subject of unsolicited attention.
‘Do you look at porn? What kind?’
An alleged victim, Steven Lee, said that Karkara, who describes himself as “a trained social worker with commitment to advance human rights, participation, inclusion and gender equality, accountability and social justice” in his work bio, first met him in 2009, when Lee was 16.
He says the older man then appeared to groom him, lavishing him with attention and advice and inviting him to exclusive work events, while also making increasingly insistent moves.
“Do you look at porn. What kind? What do you think of it? Are you sexually active? Do you masturbate? Have you been practicing?” Karkara purportedly asked, on another occasion suggesting Lee send his own porn-viewing material to him.
At one point, Karkara appeared to half-jokingly suggest that after “all the UN had done for him” Lee owed him oral sex.
The most upsetting incident for Lee came when Karkara allegedly grabbed his genitals through his trousers while in a hotel room during a conference, before asking him “Am I your first?”
Aashish Khullar had worked alongside Karkara at the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, an area in which the Indian official specialized, having also worked as a youth consultant for UNICEF and Save the Children.
“There was a prevailing sense among all who had worked with him that misconduct was his modus operandi. No one was surprised when this was formally raised,” Khullar said.
Mandy Sanghera, another UN-affiliated activist, who spoke to several of the men making allegations, called Karkara a “predator” exhibiting a “long pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Diplomatic immunity means charges unlikely
UN Women has not answered follow-up questions from RT over the investigation, but published an updated statement about the investigation on Wednesday night.
“UN Women continues to ensure that the case is investigated thoroughly and [is] receiving the priority it deserves. We recognize the gravity with which such cases should be treated and have taken the allegations very seriously at every stage,” it asserted, pointing out that a different agency is responsible for the investigation itself.
It added that it “cannot comment on any further specifics of the case” – including officially revealing Karkara’s name – “as that could undermine the accountability process.”
The UN also said that the subject of the process could face punishment, from job termination to having the details of the case passed to the national authorities where the alleged crimes were committed.
Even if Karkara is definitively found guilty of sexual crimes during the internal investigation, he is unlikely to face anything but internal justice. He is protected by diplomatic immunity as a UN official, and unless it is waived by the body itself, the strictest punishment he’d likely face is expulsion to his home country.
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