An investigation authorized by the World Health Organization has uncovered over 80 cases of sex abuse by staff members transferred to the Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) in response to an Ebola outbreak.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appointed the panel’s co-chairs to investigate the claims last October after media reports said unnamed humanitarian officials sexually abused women during the Ebola outbreak that began in the DRC in 2018.
A 35-page report released by the investigation committee on Tuesday detailed widescale sexual abuse reports committed by personnel of the global health agency hired both locally and internationally from 2018 to 2020.
In one report, an underaged victim described how a WHO driver stopped to offer her a ride home as she sold phone cards on a roadside in the town of Mangina in April 2019.
“Instead, he took her to a hotel where she says she was raped by this person,” the report said. Alleged victims “were not provided with the necessary support and assistance required for such degrading experiences”.
Malick Coulibaly, a member of the independent panel, said during a media briefing that there were nine allegations of rape. The women interviewed said the perpetrators used no birth control, resulting in some pregnancies. Some women said the men who had abused them forced them to have abortions, Coulibaly said.
The investigators were able to obtain the identity of 83 alleged perpetrators, both Congolese nationals and foreigners. In 21 cases, the review team was able to establish with certainty that the alleged perpetrators were WHO employees during the Ebola response.
Passy Mulabama, founder and executive director of the Action and Development Initiative for the Protection of Women and Children in the DRC (AIDPROFEN), said the findings were “unacceptable.”
“The DRC has been affected by conflicts for so many years … and it’s just unacceptable that humanitarians can still be responsible for sexual assault and sexual exploitation of women and children,” Mulabama told Al Jazeera.
“The people who are responsible for this exploitation and abuse have to be punished for what they’ve done,” she added.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said the agency was “heartbroken” by the findings.
“We in the WHO are indeed humbled, horrified and heartbroken by the findings of this inquiry,” she said.
“We apologise to these people, to the women and the girls, for the suffering they have had because of the actions of our staff members and people that we have sent into their communities,” she added.