India-Born UN Gender Equality Official Subject of 14-Month Long Probe Into Sexual Harassment Charges
Ravi Karkara speaking at an UN Women event (Photo: Video grab, UN Women)

A Russia TV report has revealed that an India-born UN official Ravi Karkara is at the centre of a 14-month-long investigation into sexual abuse charges at the gender equality organisation. The investigation is looking into accusations against him of making repeated unwanted sexual advances towards younger men.

RT.com has quoted a Newsweek report which outed Ravi Karkara as the UN official being investigated. Karkara had worked as senior adviser to the former deputy executive director of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, until recently.

According to Newsweek, which spoke to several lawyers and activists familiar with the case, as well as 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.

RT.com has published a conversation with one of the alleged victims, Steven Lee. Lee says the older man appeared to groom him, lavishing him with attention and advice and inviting him to exclusive work events, while also making increasingly insistent moves. On multiple occasions he was asked, “Do you look at porn. What kind? What do you think of it? Are you sexually active? Do you masturbate? Have you been practising?”

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?”

Another subordinate of Karkara, Aashish Khullar also spoke of Karkara’s misbehaviour. Khullar had worked with him at the UN Major Group for Children and Youth, an area in which the Indian official specialised, 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.

Karkara remains on leave while collecting full pay.