BENI, Congo – Twenty-one World Health Organization workers in Congo have been accused of sexually abusing people during an Ebola outbreak, a WHO-commissioned panel of experts said on Tuesday in a report that identified 83 alleged perpetrators linked to the 2018-2020 mission.
The panel released its findings months after an Associated Press investigation found WHO senior management was made aware of several abuse allegations in 2019, but failed to end the harassment and even promoted one of the officials involved.
“This is the largest discovery of sexual abuse perpetrated in a single UN initiative in a region or country during the limited period of a UN response effort,” he said. said Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue campaign, which campaigns to end sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers.
Panel member Malick Coulibaly said investigators discovered a total of nine rape allegations. Women interviewed said their attackers had not used any contraception, which resulted in some pregnancies. Some women said their rapists forced them to have an abortion, Coulibaly said.
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The youngest of the alleged victims, identified in the report only as “Jolianne” and estimated to be 13, said a WHO driver stopped by a road in the town of Mangina where she was selling phone cards in April 2019 and offered to give it a ride home.
“Instead, he took her to a hotel where she says she was raped by that person,” according to the report.
The panel recommended that the WHO grant reparations to victims and set up DNA tests to establish paternity and allow women to claim their rights and those of their children.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appointed the co-chairs of the panel to investigate last October after media claimed that anonymous aid officials sexually abused women during the Ebola epidemic that began in Congo in 2018.
He called the report a “heartbreaking” reading and a “dark day” for the UN. health agency. Tedros said four people were fired and two put on administrative leave following the scandal, but he did not name them.
The WHO chief also declined to say whether he would consider resigning; Germany, France and several other European countries appointed Tedros for a second term last week.
Lawrence Gostin, president of global health law at Georgetown University, said he would not call for Tedros’ resignation unless he was aware or could reasonably have known of such abuse.
Tedros visited Congo 14 times during the outbreak, has repeatedly said he was personally responsible for the response, and publicly praised one of the alleged rapists for his heroic work.
“It is inconceivable that this has ever happened, and the scale of the sexual assaults is shocking,” Gostin said.
Panel investigators said they had identified 83 alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation, both Congolese and foreigners. In 21 cases, the review team established with certainty that the alleged perpetrators were WHO employees during the Ebola response.
The PA published evidence in May showing that Dr Michel Yao, a senior WHO official overseeing the response to the outbreak in Congo, had been informed in writing of several allegations of sexual abuse. Yao was then promoted and recently led the WHO’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, which ended in June.
WHO doctor Jean-Paul Ngandu and two other agency officials also signed a contract promising to buy land for an allegedly pregnant young Ngandu woman; Ngandu told the PA he was forced to do so to protect the reputation of the WHO.
The panel said that during his interview with Tedros, he said he was made aware of the allegations of sexual abuse when they came to light in the press and that he had not heard of the incident involving Ngandu until the PA published his story.
The panel report also blamed Andreas Mlitzke of the WHO, head of the agency’s compliance, risk management and ethics divisions, and David Webb, who heads the internal oversight office.
When informed of Ngandu’s alleged misconduct, Mlitzke and Webb attempted to determine whether the woman accusing the doctor of having her pregnant should be named as a “beneficiary,” given her legal contract with Ngandu. Webb said no investigation was necessary since the issue was settled by “out-of-court settlement.”
Shekinah, a young Congolese woman who accepted an offer to have sex with WHO’s Boubacar Diallo in exchange for a job, said she hoped he would be sanctioned by the Nations health agency United and banned from working again for the WHO.
“I would like him and the other doctors who will be charged to be severely punished so that it serves as a lesson to the other untouchable doctors of the WHO,” said Shekinah, who refused to give his last name for fear of reprisals.