‘Charge sheet to be filed against UNFPA India head in sexual harassment case’

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Patna, March 4 (IANS) Over a year after women rights campaigner Prashanti Tiwari filed an FIR against UNFPA India chief Diego Palacios for sexually harassing her, Bihar Police’s CID has ordered the investigating officer to file a charge sheet against him, police sources said on Monday.

In the FIR filed in February last year, Prashanti had also accused the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country head for India and Ena Singh of assault with intention to outrage her modesty and criminal intimidation.

She had alleged that Palacios sexually harassed and abused her on many occasions during his visit to Bihar in March 2017, and thereafter retaliated against her by closing her programme ‘Bandhan Tod’, which was working against child marriage.

A district police officer associated with the matter told IANS that police found there was a prima facie case against Palacios.

“A charge sheet will be filed in the court soon,” the police officer, who did not want to be named, said.

According to sources in state police headquarters here, several problems were faced in the investigation due to the accused’s diplomatic immunity. The case was transferred to the CID, which approached the Ministry of External Affairs to interview the accused and key witnesses and to obtain various documents.

An arrest warrant is likely to be issued and will be served to the accused through the Ministry of Home Affairs, the sources said.

This case, involving United Nations officials enjoying immunity, attracted much national and international attention. A number of other cases of sexual harassment within the UN system came to light, and in one case, an Indian, Ravi Karkara was dismissed from service by UN Women.

Prashanti’s call to prevent abuse of UN immunity saw a global movement in her support and to end diplomatic immunity privileges, which, according to campaigners, impedes victim’s right to legal justice.

With growing international pressure, the UNFPA initiated its own internal investigation last year. Though Prashanti initially rejected it, she later joined at the MEA’s request.

The investigation, which dismissed Prashanti’s allegations as “unsubstantiated”, received flak from international organisations for penalising the victim and protecting the accused.

While Prashanti refused to comment on the new developments, a spokesperson from Gender Alliance told IANS that the news is a tribute to phenomenal courage and strength of not only her but also to other women in the ‘Me Too’ movement whose harrowing experiences have been dismissed by men in position of power.

“An official statement from Gender Alliance would be released soon after discussions with various individuals and organisations who stood by the cause throughout, including Code Blue Campaign (which probes allegations of sexual harassment by UN officials),” the spokesperson added.

Prashanti re-launched Bandhan Tod recently and it saved nearly 50 girls in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh from child marriage. The first FIR against child marriage in Bihar in last four years was also lodged by her against a 50-year-old tution teacher for marrying his 15-year-old student.

–IANS

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