GENEVA, Nov 1 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended a senior manager at its Geneva headquarters after a British doctor publicly alleged she was sexually assaulted at a health conference last month, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Rosie James, a 26-year-old junior doctor working for England’s National Health Service tweeted last month that the assault occurred at the World Health Summit in Berlin. The event, which took place from Oct. 16-18, was jointly organised by the WHO. James said at the time that she planned to report the incident.
“The alleged perpetrator is on leave and the investigation is on-going,” a WHO spokesperson said in an emailed response to Reuters about James’s statements, without naming him.
Reached by Reuters by phone, the individual allegedly implicated in the sexual assault declined to comment.
The WHS Foundation GmbH, the other organiser of the Berlin event, said in a statement to Reuters that the allegations should be investigated “urgently and thoroughly.”
“The WHO is leading the investigation in the case,” Dr Jörg Heldmann, managing director of the WHS Foundation, said in the statement.
James told Reuters that the WHO official made repeated sexual advances that involved groping her and asking for her hotel room number at an evening networking event.
“Someone pretended to be my boyfriend to defuse the situation, and even after that, he continued to touch me inappropriately,” she told Reuters. “I was just really fed up because this happens to women all the time and I wanted to raise it.”
Her account was corroborated by a witness to the incident who asked not to be named to protect their identity.
Reuters is not naming the official given reporting restrictions under Swiss privacy laws, which prohibit identifying people accused of certain wrongdoing.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the agency has “zero tolerance” for sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in its ranks.
Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich and Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Deepa Babington
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