An investigatory panel has reported that 21 WHO workers sexually abused women and girls while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide aid during the Ebola outbreak.
Out of a total of 83 alleged perpetrators, 21 were employees of the World Health Organization. The sexual abuse took place between 2018 and 2020 during the Ebola outbreak, and the perpetrators are both Congolese and international workers.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appointed the panel last October to investigate the claims following a 2020 report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian, which stated that more than 50 women accused aid and charity workers of “demanding sex in exchange for jobs” in the Congo.
Some of the victims said they were “ambushed” in hospitals, some said they were first intoxicated, and others said they were manipulated into sex with the bribe of a job. Several women were impregnated by the perpetrators, and two victims claim their attackers later forced them to get abortions.
The panel documented nine rape allegations, including the case of “Jolianne,” a 13 year old. Jolianne claims a WHO driver stopped on the road in the town of Mangina, where she was selling phone cards in April 2019. He offered to give her a home but instead took her back to his hotel where he raped her.
Shekinah, a young Congolese woman who had sex with WHO's Boubacar Diallo in exchange for a job, said, “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.”
Following the findings of the panel, WHO chief Tedros said, “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.”
Four people have been fired and two placed on administrative leave, but they were not named by Tedros.
The panel recommended the “WHO provide reparations to victims and set up DNA testing to establish paternity and enable women to assert their rights and those of their children.”
“This is the biggest finding of sexual abuse perpetrated during a single U.N. initiative in one area or one country during the time-bound period of a U.N. response effort,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Campaign, which strives to end sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers.