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WHO employees took part in Congo sex abuse during Ebola crisis, report says By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This logo was taken outside of a World Health Organization building during an update meeting about the COVID-19 epidemic, Geneva, Switzerland. April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Emma Farge and Hereward Holland

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 80 aid workers including some employed by the World Health Organization (WHO) were involved in sexual abuse and exploitation during an Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an independent commission said on Tuesday.

The probe was prompted by an investigation last year by the Thomson Reuters (NYSE:) Foundation and The New Humanitarian in which more than 50 women accused aid workers from the WHO and other charities of demanding sex in exchange for jobs between 2018-2020.

It was long awaited and found that at most 21 of the 83 suspected perpetrators worked for the WHO. The abuses, including nine allegations of sexual assault, were carried out by both international and national staff.

Malick Coulibaly from the Commission stated that they have found out that victims who were presumed to be raped had been offered jobs either in return for sexual relations, or so that their jobs would not be lost.

He added that many male abusers did not use condoms. 29 of these women were pregnant or forced to have an abortion by their abusers.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is the WHO director general. He has pledged to zero tolerance for sexual abuse and is believed to be looking to a second term as a member of the UN health organization.

It should not have happened to anybody. This is unacceptable. It is my priority that those responsible are punished and held accountable.” He said promising more steps, including wholesale reforms to the structures of culture and society.

Matshidiso Moeti, regional director of the U.N. Health Organization said that the results had left the body “humbled,” horrified and devastated. U.N. SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres spoke out to apologize for the findings and thank victims for giving their testimony.


The known perpetrators have been banned from future WHO employment while the contracts of four people employed by the body have been terminated, officials said.

The perpetrators may face criminal prosecution. Tedros indicated that he intended to forward the rape accusations to Congo and the countries of suspected perpetrators. Some have not been identified.

The WHO responded to victims’ representations in Beni in eastern Congo which was once a Ebola hotspot. However, they were urged to go further.

Esperence Kasi, Coordinator of Women’s Rights Group ‘One Girl One Leader” in Beni said that they encourage the WHO not to stop and punish those in the community who have abused girls and women.

The report reveals that a fourteen-year-old girl called “Jolianne” told the Commission she was selling recharge cards for phones on the streets of Mangina, April 2019, when a WHO driver gave her a ride back. Instead, he drove her to a hotel and raped her. She later had her child.

The review team heard from some women already working that they were still being sexually harassed and forced to have sex by supervisory men to retain their job, be paid more or to get promoted.

Some women claimed they were fired for not consenting to sex, while others didn’t get the job they desired.

According to the report, victims allegées “were not offered the needed support and assistance necessary for such degrading experience”.

Co-chair of the investigation Aïchatou Mindaoudou said that there was “no overlap” between the victims who testified in last year’s media reports and those it interviewed, acknowledging that this could point to a larger problem.

She added that higher-ranking WHO staff “were conscious of what was occurring and didn’t take action”.

The end of Ebola’s two-year-old outbreak that claimed more than 2,200 lives, which was the worst outbreak since 1976, was announced by the Congo government in June 2013.

Congo, along with other international aid agencies, have promised to conduct investigations into the sexual abuse. The Congo’s Minister of Human Rights was unavailable for comment immediately.