At least 21 employees of the World Health Organization were alleged perpetrators of rape, sexual abuse or sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the Ebola outbreak from 2018 to 2020, an official investigation has found.
According to the final report of an established one-year independent review, there were many employees, from security guards and drivers to senior doctors, consultants and epidemiologists, both Congolese and foreign, who promised jobs to vulnerable women and girls in exchange for sex. . by WHO.
In all, 84 incidents of sexual abuse and abuse were recorded in the Ebola region, with victims 13 years old. Of the incidents recorded, nine were allegations of rape.
The report found that some WHO employees even gave their victims abortion pills when they were pregnant.
“It’s a dark day for the WHO,” said agency director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The findings of the report are a betrayal of the people we serve,” he said at a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the agency was “humbled, appalled and heartbroken” by the findings.
Dr Tedros said he had made 14 visits to the Ebola region during the outbreak and was never informed of the allegations of sexual abuse. “Maybe I should have asked the question,” he said.
But he did not respond directly when a reporter asked him if he intended to resign. Several European and African countries this month said they have nominated him for a second five-year term in the agency’s top job starting next May.
One of the allegations of sexual abuse was detected within the WHO system as early as May 2, 2019, according to emails uncovered by the investigation. Yet senior WHO staff did not initiate an investigation or seek further information at the time, as they determined that the complainant was not a “beneficiary of WHO services”.
Dr. Tedros said the investigators’ reports were painful to read. He personally apologized to the victims. “I am sorry for what has been done to you by those who were appointed by WHO to serve and protect you,” he said.
“I am sorry for the pain these events have caused. I am sorry that you had to relive them to speak to the commission about your experiences. Thank you for your courage in doing so. What happened to you? Should never be with anyone. It’s unforgivable.”
He said it was his “top priority” to ensure that the perpetrators were held accountable.
Of the 21 employees identified by investigators, four were still working for the United Nations health agency this month. Their contracts have now been terminated, Dr. Tedros said.
He added that all 21 have been banned from WHO employment in the future, and other UN agencies will be informed about them as well. The agency is also sending evidence of rape to DRC officials and the home countries of the alleged perpetrators.
In addition, two senior agency employees have been placed on administrative leave for failing to take appropriate action in response to complaints of sexual abuse, and others are being investigated.
Dr. Tedros said, “In my view, the failure of WHO staff to respond adequately to reports of sexual abuse and abuse is as bad as the incidents themselves.”
He said the agency would take steps to improve standards of screening, recruitment, training and behavior of its employees, starting with leaders and managers.
Victims believed that WHO staff would be absolved of punishment for their misconduct, the report found. The report said the investigation found 75 alleged victims of abuse, while “reports of sexual abuse and abuse at the institutional level were completely lacking during the reporting period.”
“Reporting results can be viewed as very negative in comparison to any benefit that may accrue from it,” it said.
The report said that during the Ebola outbreak, the WHO was “not fully prepared” to deal with the risks of sexual abuse and abuse.
Many of the cases described in the report were the case of a migrant WHO epidemiologist who took advantage of a young nurse’s desperation for a better-paying job. The report said he told her that he “had to be his girlfriend” to get the job. When she turned down his advance, she didn’t get the job.
Another expatriate WHO epidemiologist repeatedly told a female WHO employee that he would fire her if he refused to have sex with her. When she finally succumbed to the threats, she became pregnant and he gave her abortion pills, the report said.
The abuse was first reported in September, 2020 by journalists from The New Humanitarian and Thomson Reuters Foundation. Their investigation, citing reports of 51 women, said sexual abuse and abuse was perpetrated by men from WHO and other aid agencies, including UNICEF, Oxfam, World Vision and Médecins Sans Frontieres.
The WHO requested an independent commission of inquiry, chaired by Aichtou Mindoudou, a former cabinet minister in Niger and Julienne Luseng, a human rights activist in the DRC. The co-chairs appointed three other members, including Carol Doucet, a Canadian expert on women’s rights and sexual abuse.
Paula Donovan, co-director of the independent group AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue campaign, which seeks impunity for sex crimes by UN personnel, said the WHO needs experts to investigate itself for criminal wrongdoing. should not have been allowed to choose. .
“WHO is still deciding when and in what cases to alert the police and the courts,” Ms Donovan said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This is not justice for the victims. UN member governments should immediately order the removal of all UN bureaucrats and allow a substantive criminal investigation to be launched.
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