WHO workers abused women on mission in Congo, survey finds

Doctors and other staff working for the World Health Organization to assist during an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the C...


Doctors and other staff working for the World Health Organization to assist during an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have abused or sexually exploited women and girls, a woman and girls reported on Tuesday. commission appointed by the head of the agency.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief executive of the agency, apologized directly to the victims – who number in the dozens – and pledged to undertake “comprehensive reform of policies and processes” to combat exploitation and abuse within the organization. He said the agency was terminating the contracts of four people identified as perpetrators who were still employed by the agency and that it would forward the rape allegations to Congolese authorities and to the countries of origin of those accused of misconduct.

The 2018-2020 Ebola response “was a large and complex operation in a very insecure region requiring large-scale recruitment of local and international staff,” said Dr Tedros. “But none of this is an excuse for sexual exploitation and abuse. We recognize that we should have taken more stringent measures to select our candidates and ensure more efficient human resources processes. “

Commission investigators were able to identify 83 people suspected of having been involved in the abuses, including Congolese nationals and foreigners, according to the report. In 21 cases, investigators were able to establish with certainty that those suspected of abuse were WHO employees.

The 35-page report cited “obvious structural failings” in the agency’s response to allegations of misconduct. It paints the picture of an organization obsessed with bureaucracy and ruminating on the technical details of abuse accusations, such as who could benefit from legal protection from exploitation and whether a charge should be investigated. if a written complaint had not been filed.

The commission found that women were promised jobs in exchange for relationships or were sexually exploited in order to keep their jobs. The report cites stories of women like the one identified as Nadira, who worked in Beni as an archivist.

“To get ahead in the job, you had to have sex,” she told investigators. “Everyone has had sex in exchange for something. It was very common. I was even offered sex if I wanted to have a basin of water to wash myself in the base camp where we were staying.

The report highlighted the power differential between employees of international organizations like the WHO and the people they serve. He declared that “the majority of the alleged victims were in a very precarious economic or social situation during the intervention”.

He adds: “Indeed, very few of them were able to complete their secondary education, and some had never set foot in school.

The investigation was opened after The New Humanitarian, a nonprofit news organization based in Geneva, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, published in September 2020 the findings of a year-long investigation in which 30 of 51 women interviewed said they had been exploited by men identified as working for WHO on the Ebola epidemic from 2018.

Reports of exploitation and abuse have brought new scrutiny to the struggles of the United Nations with the decades-old problem of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers, which has surfaced in conflicts in India. Bosnia in the 1990s and in more recent emergencies in places like Central African Republic and Haiti.

The 51 women interviewed all told investigating journalists that they had been pressured to have sex with staff from WHO and other international aid organizations as well as Congo’s Ministry of Health. They came under pressure when looking for work and, on occasion, the men terminated the contracts of those who refused, the women said.

Eight women said they were exploited by employees of the Ministry of Health. Others reported meeting with men from charitable groups such as World Vision, UNICEF and the medical organization ALIMA.

Dr Tedros was only made aware of the allegations when they came to light in the media, according to the report. At a press conference on Tuesday for the report’s release, he was asked if, due to the seriousness of the allegations and because he oversaw the response to the outbreak and was on site on several occasions, he would consider to resign.

“This question was not raised with me,” he said. “I probably should have asked questions. And the next steps, what we do, is we need to ask questions.

Dr Tedros said the agency was “taking immediate action” to determine why the organization failed to detect and stop the abuse.

One of the factors cited by the commission as creating the conditions for exploitation and abuse was the lack of transparency in the process of recruiting new employees to tackle the Ebola outbreak.

The response to the virus, much like the response to the coronavirus in the United States and around the world, has created a need for large numbers of new workers. This, the report notes, has been a boon for many young people looking for work. But the recruiting process was not competitive.

“Local workers – who made up more than half of WHO staff in North Kivu province – were recruited without competitive bidding,” the report says, “thus opening the door to possible abuse, including incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse, which unfortunately have been witnessed.

The report also cited “late and insufficient” training on combating sexual exploitation and abuse as part of the response to the Ebola crisis. The first such training session took place in November 2019, five months after the outbreak was declared an international public health emergency. The report also found that only a small number of the organization’s staff – 371 of the more than 2,800 deployed during the outbreak – had attended the training session.

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Newsrust - US Top News: WHO workers abused women on mission in Congo, survey finds
WHO workers abused women on mission in Congo, survey finds
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