WHO activists sexually abused women during Ebola mission in Congo

Doctors and other World Health Organization employees who provided assistance during the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sexually abused or exploited women and girls there, said a commission set up by the agency’s head. informed to.

The general director of the institution, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebrejesus, apologized directly to the victims – dozens are reported in numbers – and promised “major reforms of policies and procedures” to combat exploitation and abuse of the organization.

He said the agency canceled the contracts of the four identified perpetrators who were still employed by the agency and would forward the rape allegations to Congolese authorities and the home countries of the people accused of the abuse.

The response to Ebola from 2018-2020 was “a large and complex operation in a high-risk area requiring the mass recruitment of local and international personnel,” said Dr. Tedros. “But none of this is an excuse for violence and sexual assault. We recognize that we need to take stronger action to screen our candidates and ensure a more efficient human resource process.

According to the report, commission investigators identified 83 people believed to be involved in the violence, including Congolese and foreigners. In 21 cases, investigators were able to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspects were WHO officials.

The 35-page report cited “clear structural weaknesses” in the way the agency responded to allegations of wrongdoing. It paints a picture of bureaucratic organization and examines the technical details of allegations of abuse, such as who is entitled to compensation for exploitation and whether the allegations should be investigated if a written complaint is not filed.

The Commission found that women were promised work or were sexually exploited in exchange for relationships to keep their jobs. The report cites the story of women like Nadira, who works as an archivist at Benny.

“To get ahead in work, you have to have sex,” he told investigators. “Everyone has sex in exchange for something. It’s very common. They even offered me sex if I wanted a basin of water to wash myself while I was at base camp.

The report highlights the power disparity between officials at international organizations such as the WHO and those who serve them. He added that “most of the alleged victims were in a very precarious economic or social situation at the time of the reaction”.

In fact, very few of them have completed secondary education and some have never attended school.

The investigation was launched following the results of an annual survey published in September 2020 by The New Humanitarian, a non-profit information organization based in Geneva, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, of 30 of the 51 women interviewed by men who work for the WHO. reported. Operation. About the Ebola epidemic that broke out in 2018

The Report on Exploitation and Abuse opens up new research on decades of UN conflict with sexual violence by peacekeepers that emerged in the conflict in Bosnia in the 1990s, and the recent state of emergency in places such as the Central African Republic and Haiti. He came. .

The 51 women interviewed told investigative reporters that they had been pressured to provide sex to the WHO and other international aid agencies, as well as officials from the Congo Ministry of Health. Women say they are under pressure to find work, and sometimes men have terminated contracts from those who refuse, women say.

Eight women admitted to being exploited by Health Ministry officials. Others reported meeting people from charities, including World Vision, UNICEF, and the medical organization Alima.

The report said that Dr. Tedros was only notified of the allegations when they appeared in the media. At a press conference Tuesday to mark the report’s release, he was asked if he would consider stepping down because of the gravity of the allegations and because he monitors the response to the outbreak and has been there several times.

He said, “This matter has not been raised with me. “Perhaps I should have asked. And in the next step we have to ask questions. ”

dr. Tedros said the agency was taking “immediate steps” to find out why the organization didn’t know about it and stop the abuse.

One of the factors the commission cited for creating conditions for exploitation and abuse was the lack of transparency in the recruitment process to fight the Ebola spike.

Like the coronavirus response in the United States and around the world, the viral response has created a need for large numbers of new workers. The report says this is a boon to many young job seekers. But the selection process is not competitive.

“Local workers – who make up more than half of the WHO workforce in North Kivu Province – have been hired without tender,” the report said, “opening the door to potential abuse, including incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse.” Unfortunately it looks.”

The report also cites “late and inadequate” training to prevent sexual violence and harassment in response to the Ebola crisis. The first such exercise was carried out in November 2019, five months after the outbreak was declared an international health emergency.

The report also found that a small number of the organization’s employees – 371 of the more than 2,800 who served during the outbreak – took part in the training.