Humanitarian activist Winnie Byanyima named to head UNAIDS

In this Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 file photo, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, attends the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland. (AP
Updated 15 August 2019

Humanitarian activist Winnie Byanyima named to head UNAIDS

  • The turmoil has been a damaging distraction for an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded UN efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030

LONDON: Winifred “Winnie” Byanyima, a former Ugandan politician and the current head of the humanitarian group Oxfam International, was appointed the new executive director of the UN AIDS agency on Wednesday.
The previous UNAIDS chief, Michel Sidibe, left the post early in May after allegations that he improperly handled sexual assault claims against one of his deputies.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced Byanyima’s appointment by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying she “brings a wealth of experience and commitment in harnessing the power of government, multilateral agencies, the private sector and civil society to end the HIV and AIDS crisis for communities around the world.”
In an email to Oxfam staff, Byanyima said she had “very personal” reasons for accepting the UNAIDS job, noting that she lost her brother Bernard to AIDS “as well as many comrades, friends and relatives” and that she is “guardian to children who are HIV/AIDS orphans.”
Ending AIDS, she wrote, “is an extremely important social justice issue, particularly so in Africa where the epidemic is most experienced.”
In a statement issued by UNAIDS after her appointment was announced, Byanyima said: “The end of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 is a goal that is within the world’s reach, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead.”
Byanyima, who was a Ugandan legislator for 11 years and has worked on women’s and development issues for international organizations, has engineering degrees from the Cranfield Institute of Technology and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Her husband, Kizza Besigye, is an opposition politician and four-time presidential candidate in Uganda.
Last year, the UNAIDS agency was rocked by claims of sexual assault and harassment. An independent report concluded there was a “toxic” atmosphere at the agency that was reportedly rife with bullying and professional misconduct.
The allegations of sexual assault and managerial mismanagement prompted Sweden to announce it would suspend its funding to the agency. A senior director accused of sexual assault left early and Sidibe announced that he was stepping down before his term ended.
Confidential documents obtained by the Associated Press earlier this year showed the agency was continuing to grapple with previously unreported allegations of financial and sexual misconduct involving a whistleblower who went public last March with claims that one of the organization’s top officials assaulted her in a Bangkok hotel elevator.
The turmoil has been a damaging distraction for an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded UN efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.
“I believe (Byanyima’s) personal experience with HIV will serve her well as she now takes on the responsibility of serving not just as the organizational head of UNAIDS, but the political head,” said Dr. Jose M. Zuniga, president and CEO of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, a UNAIDS technical partner.
He said Byanyima’s appointment should allow UNAIDS to reset the agency’s future priorities.
“She has an opportunity to close the sad chapter in UNAIDS history and open a new one,” Zuniga said. “She will need to prioritize the gathering and review of evidence, to make determinations from her rich experience as a leader, what to do to right the ship and ensure it’s heading in the right direction.”
He said that the agency has made significant advances in rolling out HIV testing and treatment under its previous directors, but that progress has been uneven across different patient groups.
 


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”