GOMA, Congo (AP) — Two experts appointed by the World Health Organization to investigate allegations that some of its staff sexually abused women during an Ebola outbreak in Congo have rejected the agency’s efforts of the UN to excuse its management of such misconduct as “absurdity”. .”
Some of the women victims say – almost four years later – they are still waiting for the WHO to dismiss those responsible or to be offered financial compensation.
In October 2020, Aichatou Mindaoudou and Julienne Lusenge were called by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to lead a panel investigating reports that some WHO members sexually abused or exploited women in the conflict-ridden region of Congo during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak.
His magazine found at least 83 perpetrators of abuse working for the WHO and its partners, including complaints of rape, forced abortions and the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl, in the largest known sexual abuse scandal in the history of the UN health agency.
The panel also found that three WHO administrators mishandled a sexual misconduct case first reported by the Associated Pressinvolving a UN doctor signing a contract to buy land for a woman he allegedly impregnated.
A UN confidential report submitted to the WHO last month concluded that the handling of the case by the managers did not violate the WHO’s sexual exploitation policies, because the woman was not considered a “beneficiary” of the aid WHO, since it has not received humanitarian assistance.
“The restrictive approach favored by the WHO is nonsense,” Mindaoudou and Lusenge said in a statement, adding that the WHO’s beneficiaries “should only be interpreted in favor of potential victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, with a view to maintaining accountability.”
Anifa, a Congolese woman who worked at an Ebola clinic in northeastern Congo, said she was offered a job at double her salary in exchange for sex with a WHO doctor and it was. still traumatized by the experience.
“How many times do I have to speak before (doctors) at the WHO responsible for sexual abuse are punished?” she asked. “If the WHO does not take radical measures, we will conclude that the organization has been corrupted by violators.”
Anifa, who did not share her last name for fear of reprisal, said she did not expect any financial compensation from the WHO, explaining that “money will not erase the wounds I have in my heart” . She reported the alleged misconduct to the WHO in 2019, but never received a response.
Mindaoudou, a former government minister in Niger and Lusenge, a human rights activist in Congo, also criticized the WHO for its failure to punish senior staff members linked to the abuse, saying there it was a “culture of impunity” in the organization.
When allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation appeared in the press in September 2020, Tedros said he was “outraged” and that anyone found involved would face serious consequences. The WHO emergency chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, said the agency had “absolutely no details” of the abuse.
But the internal UN report noted that Tedros was informed of the allegations of sexual abuse in 2019 and that some cases of alleged misconduct were discussed by senior WHO staff shortly after they occurred. Tedros himself traveled to Congo 14 times during the outbreak and said he was personally responsible for WHO’s response to Ebola.
To date, there have been no dismissals of senior officials in the WHO related to sexual misconduct; Tedros said last month that because the UN report found that evidence managers did not act improperly, three suspended officials have returned to work.
The WHO declined to comment on the internal UN report, but Tedros has repeatedly said it has “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse and exploitation, pointing to the creation of a new department to prevent abuse. conduct Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, who is leading this work, told the UN investigators that before being appointed, “sexual exploitation and abuse were not familiar terms to her.”
Tedros said earlier this month that the agency had set up a $2 million fund to help survivors of sexual abuse in Congo, but it was unclear how many women had received assistance.
Jeanette, a woman who says she was impregnated by a WHO doctor while working at an Ebola center in Butembo, said she was pressured to have an abortion, which nearly killed her. She said she expects the WHO to punish the doctor responsible for her pregnancy and has had no offers of financial compensation.
“I haven’t had the strength to work since the abortion,” she said. “WHO SHOULD KNOW THAT HIS STAFF ARE FLATTERERS, FREELOADERS AND LIARS.”
Maria Cheng reported from London. Krista Larson contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.