Steps to Reporting Prohibited Conduct

When you experience or witness prohibited conduct at your work place, there are so many aspects to consider and options on how to proceed. It can be overwhelming.

Self Care

  1. The first thing we recommend is that you take care of yourself. Seek the love and support you need. Once you feel like you are ready to deal with this absolutely unnecessary intrusion in your life, take some time to consider what you would like to see happen and your ideal outcome.
  2. You may also want to consider obtaining early legal advice or even retaining counsel, should you already be certain that you wish to proceed through the justice mechanism.
  3. Tap into the ‘whisper network’ to find out if your human resource is reliable and also whether the person engaging in the misconduct has a prior history of such behaviour.

Maintain Records

  1. Start recording the conduct you considered offensive and unwelcome as and when they happen, including details such as date, location, witnesses, and impact.
  2. Speak to people you know and trust about the incident/s contemporaneously.
  3. Maintain a Date/ Event table in an email to yourself, which provides time stamps. It comes in handy should you need to refresh your memory or have to give numerous statements in the stages of reporting and investigation should you choose to formally complain.
Tap into the 'whisper' network. Make contemporaneous notes. Look for allies. Get professional help.


  1. If you are comfortable with it,consider speaking directly with the person to convey to them that their behaviour was unwelcome and ought not to be repeated.
  2. If this conversation does not go well, or you do not feel comfortable having it, you can speak with a manager, staff representative, staff counselor or somebody you consider an ally.
  3. Should none of these individuals at your office present realistic options, you can contact the Ombudsperson for mediation services. They are neutral persons, maintain no records, and can usually guarantee a high level of confidentiality.  
  4. You can seek an informal resolution through their intervention, which creates an opportunity for confidential one-on-one conversations which may get the behaviour to cease.
  5. With the exception of cases involving threats to personal safety and security, the informal route allows for confidentiality. Please note this is not the same as anonymity.
  6. In cases of risk to life, injury,personal safety and security, you should report the matter right away to your closest security officer, ideally the chief of security, and proceed as they advice.


  1. Should the informal efforts not yield an acceptable outcome, you may consider officially reporting the conduct to human resources and immediate supervisors. Be prepared to have the matter taken out of your hands.
  2. Once your complaint triggers a formal resolution process, you will ideally not be required to interact with the person engaging in the prohibited conduct. You can seek other measures that you deem necessary.
  3. In order to not engage in several emotionally exhausting narratives of your experiences, you may wish to prepare a written statement of the events, detailing how you felt and responded to the unwelcome behaviour. Attach the Date/ Event table that you have prepared.
  4. The HR may institute an investigation, in consultation with the senior management of your organisation,based on the seriousness of the conduct you reported. Investigation maybe conducted internally by a panel or through persons that are independent or external or both.
  5. You will be interviewed. Be prepared. Keep your notes handy. Have a list of potential witnesses. You can ask for your lawyer or staff representative or a trusted person to be present. You can ask for the interview to be organised at a place of your convenience.
  6. From this point on, please be ready to not know what is going on. The progress, usually slow, is not reported to the complainant. You may not even know if and when others are interviewed. You will not automatically be given a copy of the response of the person accused.
  7. You may be informed when the report is completed and submitted to the persons or panel identified in the relevant policy for consideration. The report is supposed to be based on a legal evidentiary standard of 'balance of probability', also called 'preponderance of evidence'. It is much lower than that of “beyond reasonable doubt” used in criminal trial, but absent better training, most investigators tend to apply 'clear and consistent' standard.


  1. Once the responsible person/s or panel receives a report of findings, they usually have a fixed amount of time to decide on whether to (a) dismiss your complaint; (b) handle the matter at the duty station; or (c) escalate to the main office of human resources for disciplinary recommendations.
  2. This can be a tough decision to wait for. And an especially hard one to receive if your complaint is dismissed. Please ensure you have the support of a circle of people you love and trust around you, you may need them.
  3. If the report bore out your complaint, the management may decide to address the matter internally. You will be notified when this decision is reached and implemented, although not necessarily informed of the administrative sanction imposed.
  4. In case the matter is escalated to the head office of HR, it can take longer still to arrive at a decision. It usually means that the conduct was serious enough to merit instituting formal disciplinary action which is beyond the purview of the duty station managers.
  5. Any of these outcomes amount to an administrative decision which you can challenge should you be dissatisfied with it. It is also possible that in earlier stages of the process, you receive interim decisions which have the potential to impact the final outcome and can also be challenged through the escalation procedure.


  1. At this stage, it is most advisable to seek legal assistance. Approach your union for recommendations on representation. Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA) provides free legal advice to most UN staff members, and in some instances even interns.
  2. Note that every step from here on forward has well defined and tight time limits. Each of these deadlines have the potential of derailing your entire claim.
  3. The first port of call in UN Secretariat is something called a Management Evaluation Unit (MEU). Most UN organisations have them a version of them. Other IOs may have similar bodies intended to seek a non-adversarial resolution.
  4. Based on the recommendation of the MEU, you will have to decide whether you wish to further the matter before an administrative tribunal. Most UN bodies use the United Nations Disputes Tribunal/ Appeals Tribunal. Other IOs such as the IAEA and WIPO use the International Labour Organisations Administrative Tribunal (ILOAT).

FAO – Food and Agriculture organization

IAEA - International Atomic Energy Agency

ICC - International Criminal Court

ILO - International Labour Organization

IMO - International Maritime Organization


IOM - International Organization for Migration

OECD - Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

OPCW - Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

OSCE - Organization for security and cooperation in Europe

UNO - United Nations Organization Secretariat

UNAIDS - Joint Unirted Nations Programs on HIV/AIDS

UNDP - United Nations Development Programme

UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNF - United Nations Population Fund

UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNICEF - United Nations Children's Fund

UNOPS - United Nations Office of Project Services

World Bank

WFP - World Food Programme

WHO - World Health Organization

WIPO - World Intellectual Property Organization

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

EIB - European Investment Bank

European Parliament

ESO - European Southern Observatory

European Union of Intellectual Property

CDSP Missions and Operations


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Zero Tolerance Must Translate to Zero Tolerance in Action

Limited to no progress towards this promise and no indication that it will be achieved in a reasonable timeframe.

This promise has not been achieved, and although progress is underway, much more work needs to be done. There may also be problems with the actions taken so far that undermine the usefulness of action towards this promise.

This promise has been achieved, or strong positive progress has been made, even if some work needs to be done.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guteress, made a slew of promises and assurances on combating sexual harassment and abuse (SHA) in the UN. Guteress accepted that the UN had failed to gain the trust of its staff to come forward against misconduct because it had failed to stand by previous complainants. Over a period of 24 months since late 2016, he called on staff to Speak Up against harassment when they see it and to support staff who report it, while himself committing to stronger policies on reporting, retaliation and investigation, as well as a rapid response system.

When one condenses all the Secretary General’s “Zero Tolerance Must Translate to Zero Tolerance in Action” speeches from late 2016 to early 2019, they can be distilled into 10 key commitments. Since accountability is essential in targeting and addressing prohibited conduct, we tracked how the UN was performing on these promises. The following assessments are based purely on our analysis of the limited information on progress available through public domain material.

This assessment focusses on new commitments, made in the wake of the #MeToo campaign and does not cover policy changes prior (e.g. revising the whistleblower policy and the gender parity policy).

Hire SHA specialised investigators OIOS and train all existing investigators in SHA related skills

Six SHA specialised investigators were appointed globally and report to the OIOS representative in New York. It is UNKNOWN whether all existing investigators were trained on SHA related skills.

This promise seeks to improve internal resourcing to investigate and respond to complaints. Therefore, it is concerning that the Office of Staff Legal Assistance (OSLA) has been ignored. Without legal support, neither the complainant nor the accused can navigate the complex internal justice mechanism. Sadly, complainants are frequently advised that they will not require legal support during the internal investigations. The OIOS has seen over 200% increase in SHA complaints since 2016-17 while OSLA continues to work with 12 lawyers for the UN Secretariat global workforce. A holistic assessment of overall staffing needs would be a useful step for achieving the intent of this promise.

All SHA complaints will be treated as 'category A' complaints and investigated directly by the OIOS

Despite being applied for all new cases, the 2019 anti-harassment policy of UN does not make it part of the promised responses. Also, older cases continue to languish without the 'upgrade'.

The process of reporting and investigating SHA to be streamlined, with 3 months deadline and a victim-centric approach

The 2019 anti-harassment policy has done the exact opposite of this promise by completely removing any time line from the investigation and resolution process. Effectively, the SG has backtracked on this commitment.

Launch a 24 hours helpline

The SpeakUp helpline in New York HQ and can be reached at: +1 917-367-8910.

UN duty stations in Addis Abba, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, New York, Nairobi, Santiago, and Vienna can use extension: 78910. Peacekeeping or political mission personnel must dial an addition prefix: 1212-78910.

That said, these numbers are difficult to recall or use, especially for staff not in the United States; the helpline is staffed by volunteers, rather than a trained dedicated team; and volunteers are not equipped for tele-counselling but rather provide directory services for the most appropriate port of help for the caller.

Conduct a system-wide staff survey on sexual harassment

The Safe Spaces Survey was conducted by Deloitte and published in mid-January 2019.

The survey found 1 in 3 women in the UN face sexual harassment, rising to 1 in 2 for interns, consultants and temp staff (i.e. those on precarious, insecure contracts with greater dependency on supervisors for their UN careers). However, no actions have been identified to respond to this finding, particularly considering the escalating use of short-term and insecure employment arrangements partly as a cost-cutting measure.

Revise internal training modules on SHA, retaliation, ethics, etc.

The mandatory training on the SGB on harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse of authority has been revised. UNKNOWN whether other training have been updated too.

To improve the impact of preventive measures such training, expert behavioural change trainers need to be involved in the design and delivery of any new training.

Harmonise internal rules, policies, and procedures to address SHA as well as to take similar measures

All efforts and discussion for harmonisation of the anti-harassment policy has met with such great resistance that we don't expect this to ever pass! Even the very basic - a common definition of sexual harassment - cannot be agreed by UN bodies, who believe they are all different & unique and need a fit-for-purpose policy.

Create UN system-wide HR screening database of 'confirmed' perpetrators

Clearcheck is available to all UN bodies internally, and maybe opened up to the development/ humanitarian sector at large if proven useful.

However, it continues to face a lot of resistance and concerns on privacy and data storage grounds. As per the progress report, the database is in use but not widely yet. Time will tell whether it is faithfully updated or referenced.

Rebuild trust in the organisation

Through the IASC Champion on SEA and SH, there are efforts for leadership commitment to rebuild trust by bringing to light cases themselves rather than covering up; worrying less about reputation by focusing on follow up and self-reporting; making disclosure obligations for applicants to prevent rehiring of offenders and waiving immunity. OCHA created a fund of $1 million to support and speed up investigations on SEA and SH. However, noting the grave reputational damage from SEA, it is expected that the primary focus of a "joint" mandate on SEA and SHA will remain on beneficiaries rather than what the UN views as “blue-on-blue” transgressions.

Unequivocal commitment to not invoke immunity for those accused of SHA & develop a code of conduct for delegates to the UN

UNKNOWN when and how immunity will be waived, but it certainly has not happened yet!

In existing and ongoing cases, where the Secretary General had invoked immunity, he continues to stress it to protect the officials accused to shield them from local and/or other legal proceedings.

There is no update on code of conduct for delegates visiting the UN and the latest Handbook does not even mention the anti-harassment policy.