UN agency head alleges 'racist harassment' in Switzerland

FILE PHOTO: Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima poses for a portrait following an interview in New York

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Ugandan head of a United Nations agency complained on Wednesday that she was subjected to "racist harassment" by Swiss police who she said arrived outside her home and stopped her workout for no apparent reason.

Winnie Byanyima, executive-director of the Geneva-based agency tasked with fighting AIDS (UNAIDS), said in a post on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, that a security guard called police as she exercised in a private park outside the building where she has lived for three years.

"I've had enough of racist harassment," wrote Byanyima, who is Black, alongside a photo of two white police officers. "The cops treated me like an intruder in my own space," she said, followed by an angry emoticon.

A Geneva police spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A UNAIDS spokesperson could not be reached for further details.

The event recalled an incident at a Swiss luxury store in 2013 when a shop assistant refused to show U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey a $38,100 handbag.

More recently, a group of U.N. experts said last year there was systemic racism in Switzerland in a report that raised serious concerns about "excessive use of force and the expectation of immunity by police".

A government-mandated study acknowledged the problem was structural and said measures had so far been insufficient.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Daniel Wallis)