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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Vows To Punish WHO Workers Involved In Sex Abuse In DR Congo

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on sex abuse in DR Congo

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on sex abuse in DR Congo
WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is worried about the recent sex abuse report against WHO employees in DR Congo [Photo credit: Cfr]
A commission mandated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate the involvement of its staff in sex abuse in DR Congo released the long-awaited report on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. This damning indictment links the abuse to “clear structural failures and unpreparedness to manage the risks of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse” in DR Congo.

It cites WHO staff among 83 aid personnel who sexually abused Congolese women and girls while combating the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. The independent investigators interviewed dozens of sexual abuse victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The probe followed a joined investigation conducted by two news agencies—The New Humanitarian and Thomson Reuters Foundation. More than 50 women told the news agencies that Ebola aid workers demanded sex in exchange for employment between 2018 and 2020.

In the 35-page report, the commission notes that 21 out of the 83 sex abuse suspects were WHO employees. These included local and international workers hired to fight the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. The report further says,

“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’ who were not provided with the necessary support and assistance required for such degrading experiences.”

Sexual Abuse perpetrators to be Held to Account

Speaking on Tuesday at a news conference, WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the commission’s report makes “harrowing reading.” He also apologized to the Congolese women and girls who were sexually abused. He said,

“The first thing I want to say to the victims and survivors… (is) I am sorry. I’m sorry for what was done to you by people who are employed by WHO to serve and protect you… It is my top priority that the perpetrators are not excused, but held to account.”

WHO’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, was humbled, horrified and heartbroken by the commission’s findings. She also apologized to the victims and survivors because of the actions of our staff”. Perhaps, the sensitivity of the sex abuse cases explains why the commission took time to investigate and deliver its report.

WHO Reforms to Deter Future Occurrence

Director-General Ghebreyesus has promised nontolerance to sexual abuse. While apologizing to the women who suffered sex abuse in DR Congo, he said what happened to them shouldn’t happen to anyone else. WHO has already banned the known perpetrators from future employment by the health body.

Also, the health organization said it will be dismissing four culprits who were still part of its workforce. During the news conference, Ghebreyesus said the responsibility of ensuring perpetrators are held accountable rests with him. He also vowed to make extensive reforms regarding WHO’s structures and culture and promised to help in supporting and protecting the victims.

This is, however, not the first time WHO is making such promises. After Oxfam workers were implicated with sexual exploitation in Haiti around 2011, humanitarian agencies including WHO pledged nontolerance to such abuses.

They also pledged effective training as well as proper reporting channels for victims. However, with the recent wave of sexual abuse in the Central African country, it is questionable whether the said training or reporting system was ever implemented.

Hope for Victims of Sex Abuse in DR Congo

Furthermore, it isn’t clear if the culprits of the recent sex abuse will be prosecuted. Director-General Ghebreyesus hinted that he plans to refer rape accusations to the perpetrators’ countries and Congo as well for investigation. Sadly, some of these culprits are yet to be identified.

Nonetheless, the victims and survivors of sex abuse in DR Congo deserve justice. Victims’ representatives welcomed the Director General’s response. Esperence Kazi, who is one of the representatives said,

“We encourage the WHO to continue and show the community that its personnel who abused women and their daughters in our community have been genuinely, severely punished.”

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