Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

UN refugee chief resigns

`POSITION IMPOSSIBLE' Amid the controversy over harassment allegations, the UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers resigned from his post after a meeting with the UN secretary-general

AP , GENEVA

Former UNHCR chief, Dutch Ruud Lubbers, speaks during the opening session of the UNHCR in Geneva, Switzerland in October. Lubbers tendered his resignation on Sunday, citing media pressure over allegations against him of sexual harassment. Lubbers was accused last year of sexually harassing a female employee, but UN chief Kofi Annan decided against taking any action after an investigation.

PHOTO: EPA

UN refugee chief Ruud Lubbers resigned over sexual harassment allegations, declaring his innocence but indicating Secretary-General Kofi Annan had left him little choice.

Kofi Annan accepted the resignation, saying the continuing controversy had made Lubbers' position "impossible."

Lubbers' resignation on Sunday came two days after a meeting with Annan in which UN diplomats said the secretary-general offered the UN High Commissioner for Refugees two choices -- resign or face suspension and charges of breaking UN rules.

It also followed a report Friday in the British newspaper The Independent with the first detailed description of the allegations by a woman employed by UNHCR and statements from four other women who didn't file official complaints but claimed Lubbers sexually harassed them.

Lubbers, 65, initially refused to resign and insisted Friday at a news conference that Annan never asked. But after he left UN headquarters, Annan's office contradicted Lubbers, saying the prime topic of the meeting was his future. UN lawyers then started preparing charges against him, UN diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

In his letter of resignation, Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister, maintained his innocence, indicating that Annan had decided it was time for him to go.

"For more than four years I gave all my energy to UNHCR," he said. "Now in the middle of a series of problems and with ongoing media pressure you apparently view this differently."

"To be frank, and despite all my loyalty, insult has now been added to injury and therefore I resign as high commissioner," Lubbers said.

Lubbers, who insisted the allegations of sexual harassment were "made up" and "slander," told Annan he would be available to UNHCR until a successor is in place. His five-year term was scheduled to end on Dec. 31. Lubbers took over the job in 2001 following the retirement of Sadako Ogata, who guided the refugee agency during the 1990s.

In a telephone interview broadcast Sunday on the Dutch television program Netwerk, Lubbers blamed the press for his downfall.

"All the reports have turned out to be hot air," he said. But Lubbers said he was resigning because "the pressure from the ongoing press messages is continuing, the people that bring them out are continuing, and it's becoming too much."

The agency's chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, called it "an extremely sad day," saying that Lubbers had "poured his heart and soul into this job over the last four years."

"He's one of the hardest-working people I have ever seen, and what a lot of people don't know is that he has done it all for free. He has refused to take a salary," Redmond told reporters.

Redmond said Lubbers returned his paycheck to the agency and paid his own travel and other expenses. "Each year over the past four years he has given UNHCR about US$300,000," Redmond said.

Annan -- facing numerous investigations of alleged corruption in the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, a scandal over sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Congo, and criticism of UN management from several quarters including members of the US Congress -- decided that Lubbers had become too great a liability.

UN diplomats said that message was first conveyed to Lubbers at a private meeting with the secretary-general's new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, whose primary job is to improve UN performance and overhaul its management. Shortly after that meeting, Lubbers went to see Annan.

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