World Health Organisation (WHO) staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been accused of sexual violence on women in the country.
A recently published report by an independent commission set up in Oct. 2020 by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General, bemoaned “structural weaknesses and individual negligence” by staff and the WHO administration in the DR Congo.
“These sexual abuses were committed by both local and international members of teams charged with the fight against the ebola epidemic who served in the DR Congo between 2018 and 2020,” the report stated, revealing that investigators interrogated tens of women who were either victims of rape or were demanded sex in exchange for employment.
The report “notes the extent of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuses during the fight against the 10th wave of ebola, all of which contributed to the increase in vulnerability of presumed victims who did not benefit from aid and the necessary assistance which such degrading experiences require.”
“The first thing I have to tell the victims and survivors is that I am sorry. I am sorry, very sorry for what was imposed on you by persons who were employed by the WHO to serve and protect you,” the Director General of the WHO declared, promising severe consequences against those responsible during a press conference on the conclusions of the commission.
“This is a dark day for the WHO,” Dr Tedros —who is gunning for a second mandate at the head of the WHO for which he has already received the support of a majority of European Union member-states and Kenya— declared.
Asked by a journalist whether he intends to resign because of the scandal, the WHO Director General said: “I went to the field fourteen times and this problem was never raised. I should have perhaps asked some questions.”
The commission identified 83 persons responsible for the sexual abuses with twenty-one of them being employees of the WHO.
Four of the accused workers permanently employed were immediately dismissed by the WHO while others on short contracts have been banished from future employment with the WHO.
The UN agency intends to forward the rape allegations to the national authorities of DR Congo for further investigations as well as to the countries of origin of the other alleged perpetrators.
Two senior officials have been placed on administrative leave “and we are taking measures to ensure that persons susceptible to be implicated are temporarily discharged of all decision-making roles in this affair,” the WHO boss revealed.
He indicated that the WHO would engage an external organisation to identify the individual failures within the structure and divulged that the abuses were only made public through the investigations by journalists of The New Humanitarian and Reuters Foundation.
The commission also revealed that after several interviews, “the perception of the impunity of personnel of the institution on the part of the victims and also the fact that faced with tens of victims who complained, there was a total absence of reporting the cases at the institutional level.”
“Interviews with the principal officials of the organisation conducted by the team demonstrates that the organisation concentrated principally on the eradication of the ebola epidemic, and was not thus prepared to face the risks/incidents of sexual exploitation and abuses,” the report underlined.
In May this year, several member-states of the WHO had publicly indicated their frustrations faced with the slow pace of investigations and absence of transparency.
The member-states had also expressed concerns after information filtered in the media that the Directorate General of the WHO was informed of cases of sexual exploitation, aggressions and sexual harassment but omitted reporting them as demanded by the UN and WHO protocol as well as allegations that some members of personnel had tried to hide the crimes.
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