New York Sexual Harassment Case against UN Official Fails

On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that a UN official accused of sexual harassment is “absolutely immune” from a lawsuit over the allegations. The High Court’s ruling pertains to a Court of Appeals decision back in March concerning Cynthia Brzak, a UN staffer who had been victimized by “unwanted touching” in Geneva in December 2003 at the hands of the Chief of the UN’s refugee agency, Ruud Lubbers.

Lubbers – who also served as Netherland’s Prime Minister from 1982 to 1994 – ultimately resigned as the High Commissioner for Refugees for the UN in 2005 due to the scandal. A UN probe – facilitated by the Office of Internal Oversight Service – found that “[Lubbers] foisted unwanted physical attention of a sexual nature on a subordinate female staff member.” He also later tried to derail the investigation through “pervasive and intimidating attempts to influence [its] outcome.”

Brzak had turned to the US court system – even petitioning US President Barack Obama directly – after the internal justice system at the UN did not give her relief. Kofi Annan – the former UN Secretary General, who led the UN when the sexual harassment occurred – did not act on the UN probe’s recommendation to discipline or punish Lubbers.

Lubbers has also been publicly accused of groping actress Angelina Jolie, who currently serves as a goodwill ambassador for the UN. According to a 2007 Sydney Morning Herald report, several witnesses testified that they saw the former Netherlands’ Prime Minister grab the actress from behind while she rode an elevator with him.

Both the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court cited a treaty that provides UN officials significant immunity from lawsuits.

As Brzak’s frustrating journey through the labyrinth of the UN and US criminal justice systems suggests, sometimes pursuing action against an employer who mistreated you or broke the law can be deflating.

Fortunately, if you or someone you care about has experienced harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation from your boss for complaining about problems, the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum can provide critical strategic advice. Connect with the firm today at 1-886-348-7394 – or visit – to learn more about how you can demand justice and compensation from the people and/or institutions who wronged you.

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