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WHO report finds 80 alleged abuse cases in DRC Ebola mission

September 28, 2021

Some 30 women had accused WHO employees of sexual exploitation and abuse. Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the allegations were "horrific" and launched the independent investigation.

Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Ebola epidemic
The UN was one of several aid organizations whose workers have been accused of sexual exploitation of women in the DRCImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/J. Delay

Alleged sexual abuse in DRC

The United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday released the final Independent Commission's report into allegations of sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2018 and 2020.

More than 80 alleged cases of sex abuse were found, including allegations implicating 20 WHO staff members.

The UN probe follows the release of an investigation in October 2020 by The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where at least 30 women accused men working for the World Health Organization (WHO) of sexual exploitation and abuse.

A total of 51 women reported the abuse not only at UN organs such as the WHO, UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), but also at aid organizations such as Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), World Vision, and ALIMA.

"The first thing I want to say to the victims and survivors... (is) I am sorry," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference, following the report's release.

"It is my top priority that the perpetrators are not excused but held to account," he added.

The WHO's regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said the agency was "humbled, horrified and heartbroken" by the findings of the inquiry.

Congolese nationals and foreigners involved

The identity of 83 alleged abusers is now known to UN authorities. Both Congolese nationals and foreigners were involved. In 21 cases, UN investigators established with certainty that the alleged perpetrators were WHO employees during the Ebola response.

The majority of the alleged abusers were Congolese staff hired on a temporary basis, who are accused of taking advantage of their apparent authority to obtain sexual favors, the report said.

The commission interviewed dozens of women who were offered work in exchange for sex. They also interviewed those who were alleged victims of rape, with nine such cases found.

One of the victims told DW's correspondent in Butembo, "There is one of the foreigners who likes you. If you give in to him, you'll get a job right away."

She added, "I started as a hygienist at the Ebola treatment center. A month later, he made me a camp administrator."

Victims received no support

The 35-page report paints a grim picture of what the victims endured and highlighted "the scale of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse in the response to the 10th Ebola outbreak, all of which contributed to the increased vulnerability of 'alleged victims.'" 

The alleged victims "were not provided with the necessary support and assistance required for such degrading experiences", the report said.

"Clear structural failures and unpreparedness to manage the risks of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse" were found, with investigators underscoring a "perception of impunity of the institution's staff on the part of alleged victims."

jcg/aw (AP, AFP)