Aid workers fighting Congo’s Ebola outbreak were accused of raping women as young as 13, forcing abortions and demanding sex in exchange for favors, a damning World Health Organization report said.
The report, released Tuesday, identified 83 people accused of sexual abuse during the WHO’s 2018-20 mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo – including 21 workers confirmed to be on WHO’s payroll at the time.
The accused include Congolese and foreign workers, many of whom were temporary employees.
The findings come from the Independent Commission on Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, which launched a probe reviewing dozens of accusations in the wake of media investigations that uncovered claims of abuse at WHO.
Administrators faced criticism after they were allegedly notified in writing of sex abuse accusations but didn’t take action to address the issues.
Four people were fired and two people put on leave in the wake of Tuesday’s report, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the Associated Press.
Tedros apologized to the victims and promised reforms in the UN health organization, for which he is seeking reelection to his post.
“What happened to you should never happen to anyone,” he said, according to Reuters. “It is inexcusable. It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused but are held to account.”
The commission investigated accusations of nine rapes, and accusers said their attackers often refused to use condoms which resulted in pregnancies. Six of the accusers told investigators they suffered miscarriages.
“Other alleged victims told investigators that some of the men who abused them also coerced them into having an abortion when they became pregnant, if necessary, by giving them drugs or even injections,” the report stated.
A 13-year-old girl told the commission she was offered a ride home by a WHO driver in 2019, but she was instead taken to a hotel, where she was raped. She was impregnated and later gave birth, the report said.
Many accusers outlined a culture where workers asked for sex in exchange for jobs or items.
“To get ahead in the job, you had to have sex,” one victim called “Nadira” said in the report. “Everyone had sex in exchange for something. It was very common. I was even offered sex if I wanted to get a basin of water to wash myself in the base camp where we were staying during the retaliation.”
The commission was able to interview eight of the accused as part of its probe. Six of the accused denied any involvement, while two admitted sexual relationships but said they had been consensual, the report stated.
Almost 2,300 people died during the country’s Ebola outbreak. At the outbreak’s height, there were 2,800 personnel under the auspices of WHO, the report said. Of the workforce an estimated 73 percent were men, according to the report.
Although women and girls made up the majority of accusers, several men also made claims of sexual abuse or harassment, the report stated.
The AP had reported that the doctor overseeing the Congo outbreak response, Michel Yao, was told in writing of sex abuse accusations. He was promoted and also led the Ebola response in Guinea. One Congolese victim identified as “Shikinah” told AP she was pressured into sex with WHO’s Boubacar Diallo for a job.
“I would like him and other doctors who will be charged to be punished severely so that it will serve as a lesson to other untouchable doctors of the WHO,” Shikinah told the news agency.
With Post wires
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