Annan Fires U.N. Election Assistance Chief

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to fire the highly regarded chief of the U.N. office that promotes free elections around the world for harassing staff and management failures, a U.N. official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because an official announcement is not expected until Monday, said Carina Perelli was being dismissed from the United Nations.

Stephane Dujarric, the chief U.N. spokesman, declined comment Saturday.

Efforts to contact Perelli were unsuccessful and her adviser did not return several calls seeking comment.

In August, the United Nations formally accused Perelli of harassing her staff after a four-month review into the claims of an abusive and sexually offensive environment in her division. She was given the opportunity to respond, but her reply was delayed because she was involved in parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in September and Iraq's constitutional referendum in October.

Perelli, a Uruguayan, won wide praise for her work in helping organize elections in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories and had been considered one of the young rising stars at the United Nations.

But she had been under investigation since April, after a U.N.-commissioned management review quoted staff as saying "sexual innuendo is part of the `fabric"' of the Electoral Assistance Division which she headed.

The review never named Perelli or anyone else in her office in specific allegations of sexual or professional harassment. But it said staff claimed they were subject to shouting and screaming by superiors, while some junior staff were saddled with work they were not qualified to do.

The Swiss-based management consulting firm Mannet S.A.R.L., which conducted the review, said many staff members reported that they "suffered emotionally as a result of the director's behavior in the office environment."

Many staffers also said their experiences have been "nothing short of devastating and that the work environment of the division is abusive," according to the firm's report.

It called for an investigation of what some staffers believed to be unjustified travel, especially to Latin America, using money intended for one country for purposes unrelated to that country, and using U.N. money to finance a university degree for one staff member.

Perelli's firing comes at a difficult time for the United Nations, which has endured criticism over alleged corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq, allegations of sexual harassment by former U.N. refugee chief Ruud Lubbers, and claims of sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in Congo and elsewhere.

As a result of these allegations, world leaders at a summit in September authorized a series of management reforms including establishing a new independent ethics office by September 2006. The ethics office is a top U.S. priority.

On Nov. 15, Annan reversed a decision to fire Jose Stephanides, the only U.N. official dismissed in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, after an internal U.N. appeals panel exonerated him of showing preference for one bidder over another in a 1996 oil-for-food contract. But the United Nations still claims that he violated U.N. rules, and he said he would appeal.

Perelli can similarly appeal her dismissal, initially to the U.N.'s Joint Disciplinary Committee and then to the Administrative Tribunal. Unlike the disciplinary committee, the tribunal's decisions are binding.

When the management report was released in late March, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said Perelli had done "a terrific job" on Iraq's elections and was "a very good servant of the U.N." He said he expected "due process to be followed" in whatever happened — a point he reiterated recently.