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.

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

Updated 24 September 2020

New Indian law could force thousands of NGOs to shut down, activists claim

  • Thousands of small NGOs that are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally may be forced to shut down
  • Many small NGOs questioned the timing of the new legislation, as they have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people during the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI: A new law passed by India’s parliament on Wednesday imposes restrictions that will force thousands of NGOs to shut down, dealing a major blow to the country’s civil society, activists say.

The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) 2020, which regulates the use of foreign funds by individuals and organizations, is “for national and internal security” and to “ensure that foreign funds do not dominate the political and social discourse in India,” Nityanand Rai, junior home minister, told the upper house as it passed the regulation on Wednesday.

But Indian NGOs fear that the law will mean they are no longer able to operate.

“Thousands of small NGOs, which enable good work and are dependent on legal funds obtained internationally, will shut down — also endangering the livelihoods of those dependent on them for a vocation,” Poonam Muttreja, director of the Delhi-based Population Foundation of India, told Arab News.

As the new law does not allow NGOs to share funds with any partner, individual or organization, small groups — particularly those active at the grassroots level — may end up being unable to receive the donations on which they depend for survival, Muttreja warned.

“Donors can’t give small grants to local NGOs, so they give large grants to an intermediary organization with the desire to work with grassroot-level NGOs, (of which there are many) in India,” Muttrejia said.

On Thursday, Voluntary Action Network India (VANI) — an umbrella organization for Indian NGOs — held a press conference during which members questioned the timing of the new legislation, since many small NGOs have been heavily involved in providing relief to millions of people across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is the worst possible time to hamper civil society,” the director of Ashoka University’s Center for Social Impact and Philanthropy, Ingrid Srinath, said during the conference. “Just when this country needs its entire civil society to work together with the private sector and the government to address the multiple problems that confront us — not only the health ones but the larger issues of where the economy is going and the many polarizations taking place on the ground.”

Srinath also pointed out that no wider consultation with NGOs had taken place before the law was passed.

According to Delhi-based civil society activist Richa Singh, the law is an attempt by the government to silence dissent in the country.

“The larger purpose is to further silence those civil societies that are critical of (the government). It is a political message to fall in line,” she told Arab News. “While foreign money in the form of investment is being welcomed and labor laws are weakened for it, aid money is selectively targeted.”

Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India, called it a “devastating blow” and also criticized the government’s double standards over the acceptance of foreign funds.

“Red carpet welcome for foreign investments for businesses but stifling and squeezing the nonprofit sector by creating new hurdles for foreign aid which could help lift people out of poverty, ill health and illiteracy,” he said in a Twitter post on Sunday, when the FCRA bill was introduced to the lower house.