David Karp  /  AP
Ruud Lubbers at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday.
updated 2/20/2005 6:20:55 PM ET 2005-02-20T23:20:55

U.N. refugee chief Ruud Lubbers resigned Sunday over sexual harassment allegations, declaring his innocence but indicating Secretary-General Kofi Annan had left him little choice.

Lubbers’ resignation came two days after a meeting with Annan in which U.N. diplomats said the secretary-general offered the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees two choices — resign or face suspension and charges of breaking U.N. rules.

Annan accepted the resignation, saying the continuing controversy had made Lubbers’ position “impossible.”

In his letter of resignation, Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister, maintained his innocence, indicating that Annan had decided it was time for him to go.

“To be frank, and despite all my loyalty, insult has now been added to injury and therefore I resign as high commissioner,” Lubbers said.

At a news conference after Friday’s meeting, Lubbers insisted that Annan never asked for his resignation. But after he left U.N. headquarters, he was contradicted by Annan’s office, which said the prime topic of their meeting was his future.

U.N. lawyers then started preparing charges against him, U.N. diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

Annan said he was “convinced that (the resignation) is in the best interest of UNHCR, its staff and the refugees it serves that the page be turned and a new chapter be started,” according to a statement.

Annan comments
Although Annan acknowledged he initially had accepted advice that the allegations were unsubstantiated, “the continuing controversy has made the high commissioner’s position impossible,” the statement said.

Annan thanked Lubbers for “the devotion and the commitment he has shown” to helping refugees over the last four years.

Allegations first surfaced last year that Lubbers had made unwanted sexual advances toward a female employee, but Annan said there were insufficient grounds to fire him.

On Friday, however, Annan consulted lawyers, clearly angered at the resurgence of sexual harassment allegations following a newspaper report that included graphic details.

Lubbers accused U.N. investigators of compiling a biased report and of leaking developments to the news media. He also rejected the investigators’ allegations that employees feared retaliation if they complained.

Lubbers, who has insisted the allegations of sexual harassment were “made up” and “slander.” told Annan he would continue to be available to UNHCR until a successor is found.

Poured his heart and soul into this job’
The agency’s chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, said: “It’s an extremely sad day for the high commissioner and for UNHCR.” He said the turmoil was “really difficult for any organization to go through. The high commissioner realizes that, too.”

Redmond told The Associated Press that Lubbers had “poured his heart and soul into this job over the last four years.”

“He’s one of the hardest-working people I have ever seen, and what a lot of people don’t know is that he has done it all for free. He has refused to take a salary.”

Redmond said Lubbers returned his paycheck to the agency and paid his own travel and other expenses. “Each year over the past four years he has given UNHCR about $300,000,” Redmond said.

Annan has come under fire from the U.N. Staff Union for rejecting an internal investigation’s conclusions that Lubbers engaged in sexual harassment. The secretary-general concluded that the charge could not be legally sustained, but raised concerns about the incident and possible attempts to influence the investigation.

Media reports offer details
Britain’s The Independent published the first detailed description of the woman’s allegations, and statements from four other women who didn’t file official complaints but claimed Lubbers sexually harassed them. The U.N. investigators concluded that Lubbers’ overall behavior indicated “a pattern of sexual harassment.”

According to a report Friday on ABC News, the internal investigators’ report said Lubbers engaged in “serious acts of misconduct” involving “unwanted physical attention of a sexual nature” and “lacks the requisite integrity” for the job.

At the news conference, Lubbers vehemently denied an allegation by a female employee that he put his arms around her waist, pulled her back toward him and pressed his groin into her at the end of a meeting in December 2003.

“There were two witnesses in the room who very clearly saw that I ushered the lady out of the room with my hand on her back, and that was all,” he said. “I call it familiar but certainly not sexual harassment.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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