A World Health Organization investigation has found that dozens of women were allegedly sexually assaulted and exploited by international workers and locals hired to respond to an Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The WHO appointed a five-member independent commission in October 2020 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by its employees in Ituri and North and South Kivu provinces of Congo.
Senior WHO officials described the results released on Tuesday as frightening and heartbreaking.
The commission found that more than 80 alleged cases of sexual abuse were reported between August 2018 and June 2020. Most of the victims were illiterate women aged 13 to 43.
Commission member Malik Koulibaly said that most of the women who testified said they were forced to exchange sex for the promise of a job. He said some of the sexual abuse and abuse was conducted through a network operated through a local branch, which recruited people to work on the Ebola response.
Coulibaly said through an interpreter, “Most of the victims did not get the job they were promised, despite the fact that they agreed to the sexual relationship.” “Some women declare that they are constantly being sexually harassed by men and are obliged to have sex in order to keep their jobs or be able to pay.”
Coulibaly said some of the women were fired for refusing to have sex. The panel reported that nine women were raped.
The women who were interviewed said that none of the perpetrators had used birth control, and some who became pregnant said that the men who abused them forced them to have abortions. .
The investigation found that 21 of the 83 alleged perpetrators were WHO employees, some from Congo, some from abroad. Other alleged perpetrators were contractors such as drivers and security personnel.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the document as a harrowing reading.
“The conduct it describes is a betrayal of the people we serve,” he said. “It is my top priority to ensure that offenders are not forgiven, but held accountable. … and I will take personal responsibility for whatever changes we need to make to prevent this from happening in the future.” ”
Tedros said four WHO employees had been fired and two were placed on administrative leave. He said the alleged perpetrators of rape would be sent to the national authorities in Congo for investigation.
The WHO chief also said that all victims of sexual abuse and abuse will have access to the services they need, including medical and psychosocial support, and support for the education of their children.