WHO promises 'robust' investigation of sex abuse allegations against workers in DR Congo

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WHO promises 'robust' investigation of sex abuse allegations against workers in DR Congo

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

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KINGSTON, Jamaica— The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) today promised that any of its staff working as part of the agency's Ebola response team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) found to have been involved in sexual exploitation and abuse, would face “serious consequences, including instant dismissal.”

The health agency issued the strongly-worded statement in response to allegations made during a months-long investigation by journalists from The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation news organisations, which charges that men who identified themselves as being with WHO, had been accused of sexual abuse by some 30 women.

A total of 51 women alleged that they had been sexually exploited or abused overall by mostly foreign men, identifying themselves as aid workers in Beni, the main city at the centre of what was the country's worst ever Ebola outbreak, between 2018 and June this year.

There have been 11 outbreaks of Ebola across DRC overall, including one currently underway in western Equateur Province. The large outbreak in the east, which is the focus of the abuse allegations, was officially declared over on 25 June after nearly two years, killing around 2,280.

Other organisations reportedly named by the accusers, include the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN migration agency (IOM), Medecins Sans Frontiers, Oxfam, World Vision, the medical charity ALIMA, and Congo's health ministry.

In the statement, WHO leadership and staff said they were “outraged” by the reports: “The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated.”

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible”, the statement continued. “We do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners. Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.”

The UN health agency said that Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has initiated a “thorough review of the specific allegations, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings”, emphasising that as with the UN system as a whole, the WHO has a zero tolerance policy with regards to sexual exploitation and abuse.


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