At least 21 employees of the World Health Organization (WHO) are suspected of having committed sexual abuse against women and girls during the response to the Ebola outbreak suffered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2018 and 2020, according to a conclusion on Tuesday internal investigative commission.
The commission has determined after 12 months of investigations that some of the victims were promised jobs in exchange for sexual relations, and has also received complaints of nine possible rapes, as well as extortion of women who were forced to abort after suffering these abuses.RELATED
The report counts that at least 63 women and girls suffered these abuses, and points out that in addition to the 21 WHO suspects there are another 62 possible perpetrators, of different nationalities, although their names or personal details have not been published at the moment.
The abuses “took place in hotels and in rented houses” by these perpetrators, and the victims “are mostly people in a very precarious economic and social situation,” said one of the members of the commission, Malick Coulibaly, former Minister of Justice. from Mali.
In many cases the victims “did not get the jobs they had been promised in exchange for sexual relations”, while others reported having suffered repeated harassment to keep their jobs or having been fired for refusing to have sex.
Some of these sexual abuses, according to the report, were carried out without contraceptive methods, by imposition of the aggressor, and could end in unwanted pregnancies, premature births and abortions, according to these preliminary investigations.
After knowing the preliminary results of the investigation, the director general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has apologized to the victims, has been declared responsible of the “failures in the system” that this case has shown and has promised reforms in the organization to prevent these events from being repeated in the future.
The report denounces that the WHO made mistakes when recruiting personnel for the response to the Ebola outbreak, declared between August 2018 and June 2020. It was the second worst in the history of this disease and infected 3,400 people, of which 2,300 died.
“There were clear structural failures and insufficient preparation to respond to incidents of sexual abuse, as well as individual neglect,” Coulibaly said.
In this regard, Tedros has assured that actions will be taken to improve the inspection of candidates for positions of responsibility in the WHO, in order to “regain the trust of the people we serve.”
The head of the WHO has said that the data of these suspects of sexual abuse will be presented to the authorities of the DR Congo and some countries of origin of the accused in order to continue criminal investigations.
At an administrative level, four of the suspects have been fired, and “measures will be taken” to prohibit the 21 alleged aggressors from returning to work at the WHO and other agencies linked to the United Nations.
Possible disciplinary action has also been anticipated for personnel who did not report these incidents, or who may have made mistakes in recruiting employees for the Ebola response.
“We apologize to the women and girls for what they have suffered at the hands of workers who were sent to their communities to help in the difficult situation generated by an epidemic,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Tshidi Moeti.
The investigative commission was created in October 2020, a few days after “The New Humanitarian” and the Thompson Reuters Foundation they will publish a report about possible abuses against unqualified personnel (community workers, cooks, cleaners, etc.).
The complaints also targeted workers from the Congolese Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations that also collaborated in the fight against the Ebola outbreak.
The events, and the outbreak itself, occurred in the northeastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, an area mired in a forgotten conflict for more than two decades involving militias from neighboring Rwanda.
Humanitarian organizations have denounced that the systematic rape of women is one of the most common crimes committed by the militias in this conflict.