WHO names independent body to investigate Congo sex abuse claims

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Ebola staff. (Patrick Meinhardt, AFP)
Ebola staff. (Patrick Meinhardt, AFP)
  • An investigation published last month uncovered that more than 50 women had allegedly been sexually abused by WHO aid workers.
  • The investigation also says that leading charities allegedly demanded sex in exchange for jobs.
  • The expose has implicated seven organisations in Congo.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday it was setting up a seven-person independent commission to investigate claims of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers during the recent Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo.

In an investigation published last month by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian, more than 50 women accused aid workers from the WHO and leading charities of demanding sex in exchange for jobs during the 2018-2020 crisis.

Five out of seven of the organisations named in the expose have pledged to investigate, as has Congo's health ministry.

Leading the WHO inquiry will be Aichatou Mindaoudou, former minister of foreign affairs and of social development of Niger, and Julienne Lusenge, a Congolese human rights activist, the UN agency said in a statement.

Lusenge is known for her work advocating for victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo and co-founded a Congolese women's rights group that supports survivors.

ALSO READ | DR Congo to probe allegations of sex abuse by Ebola workers

Mindaoudou has been a UN special representative to Ivory Coast and to Darfur since working for the government of Niger.

The two co-chairs will choose up to five other people with expertise in sexual exploitation and abuse, emergency response, and investigations to join the commission, the WHO said.

"The role of the Independent Commission will be to swiftly establish the facts, identify and support survivors, ensure that any ongoing abuse has stopped, and hold perpetrators to account," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a briefing to member states.

The WHO will also hire an independent and external organisation with experience in conducting similar inquiries to support the commission's work, he added.

The majority of the allegations in the Congo - made by 30 women - were against men who said they worked for the WHO. The agency has said it was "outraged" to learn of the reports and reiterated its zero tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Most of the women - many of whose accounts were backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers - said numerous men had either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job or ended contracts when they refused.

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