An independent commission charged with investigating alleged sexual violence committed by employees of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) denounces serious shortcomings. It is both “structural failures” and of “individual negligence”. Back on this case which almost went unnoticed.

Sex for jobs

The case broke in September 2020 thanks to the publication ofinvestigation journalist for The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. She reveals, with supporting testimony, that dozens of women were exploited or sexually abused by humanitarian workers, including those from the WHO, during the Ebola epidemic in eastern DRC. The alleged victims were manipulated by men who offered them a job in exchange for sex. The allegations were confirmed by a new investigation, conducted this time at the request of the WHO.

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“Everyone had sex in exchange for something. It was very common. I was even offered to have sex if I wanted to get a basin of water to wash in the base camp where we were accommodated during the response (against Ebola) “

A victim of sexual abuse in Béni, eastern DRC

Report of the Independent Commission mandated by the WHO

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“Total lack” of reporting

The independent commission, which interviewed dozens of women, was able to establish that the alleged victims were vulnerable women who were promised jobs, or were sexually exploited to keep their own. These sexual abuses were committed by workers or collaborators urgently recruited in Congo during the Ebola epidemic, but not only. International members of the WHO were also implicated and in all cases, there was “a total absence” of case reporting, according to the report. In question, “structural failures” and “personal negligence”. Thus, for almost two years, vulnerable women aged between 13 and 43 had to undergo “degrading experiences“, with complete impunity.

“I’m sorry, sorry for what was imposed on you by people who were employed by the WHO to serve and protect you”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO

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What sanctions?

Beyond the apologies of WHO President Tedros Ghebreyesus and his close collaborators, the organization promised “severe consequences” to the alleged perpetrators of such sexual abuse. The commission identified 83 of them, of which 21 were WHO employees. Since the report’s publication, four have been made redundant and those with short-term contracts will be banned from the organization.

WHO is also committed to transmitting the rape allegations to the national authorities of the DRC and to the other countries of origin of the alleged perpetrators. A symbolic decision when we know that sexual harassment and rape are trivialized and go unpunished. At this stage, no legal condemnation of the perpetrators of the attacks, nor reparations for the alleged victims.

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