UN bodies including UNICEF, WHO probe DR Congo sex abuse reports

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
David Prado
  • UNICEF became the third UN agency to launch an internal inquiry into sexual abuse of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The children's fund said it was appalled that people who identify as UNICEF workers have reportedly committed abuse against vulnerable women.
  • It was not immediately clear how many UNICEF employees had been accused.


UNICEF on Wednesday became the third UN agency to launch an internal inquiry into sexual abuse of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), promising "serious consequences" for any culprits.

The children's fund said in a statement it was "appalled that people who identify as UNICEF workers have reportedly committed abuse against vulnerable women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

It was not immediately clear how many UNICEF employees had been accused.

"There will be serious consequences for any staff who have been found to have sexually abused people," it added.

Earlier on Wednesday the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it too was investigating allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by one of its staff during the DRC's Ebola crisis, while the World Health Organisation made a similar announcement on Tuesday.

Placing three of the UN's weightiest agencies in the spotlight, the statements come after a year-long investigative report published on Tuesday by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian.

It found that more than 50 women had accused Ebola aid workers from the WHO and leading non-governmental organisations of sexual exploitation, including propositioning them, forcing them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminating contracts when they refused.

The alleged abuses took place during the 2018-2020 Ebola crisis.

'Victims should come forward'

The similarities between the accounts given by women in the eastern city of Beni suggested the practices were widespread, the report said.

UNICEF said that it "encourage(s) all victims to come forward", adding that it has "strengthened our efforts to prevent, and respond to, sexual exploitation and abuse" in the past two years and has now sent extra staff to DRC to investigate the latest allegations.

"Such abuses by UN personnel and other humanitarian workers are an outrageous breach of trust with those we are mandated to support, often in very trying humanitarian circumstances," the IOM said earlier on Wednesday.

After a "serious allegation" against one particular IOM worker, the agency "is determined to investigate and eradicate these shocking abuses wherever and whenever they occur," it added.

Around a billion dollars in aid, along with an army of external specialists, flooded into the DRC after the much-feared haemorrhagic fever Ebola surfaced in its volatile east in 2018.

That outbreak was declared over on June 25 this year after 2 287 lives were lost - the highest Ebola toll in the DRC's history and the second highest in the world, after the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that killed 11 000 people.

'Outrage' within WHO

On Tuesday, the WHO said its leadership and staff were "outraged" by reports of sexual abuse by people saying they were working for the UN health agency.

"The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated," it said in a statement.

WHO pointed out that it had a "zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse".

It added its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had initiated a thorough review into the allegations, which it did not elaborate on.

The DR Congo is currently battling a fresh Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, which has seen some 120 cases and 50 deaths since June.

The outbreak is DRC's 11th, and its third in the past two years.

Do you want to know more about this topic? Sign up for one of News24's 33 newsletters to receive the information you want in your inbox. Special newsletters are available to subscribers.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
How has the delay in schools' opening impacted your life?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a disaster! We're struggling to manage work and kids at home
39% - 622 votes
It's a struggle, but we learnt lessons from last year's closures
20% - 314 votes
It's a relief, this second wave is bad and kids need to be at home
41% - 647 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.13
(-0.14)
ZAR/GBP
20.70
(-0.11)
ZAR/EUR
18.42
(-0.11)
ZAR/AUD
11.67
(-0.11)
ZAR/JPY
0.15
(-0.86)
Gold
1855.20
(+0.05)
Silver
25.47
(+0.10)
Platinum
1100.00
(+0.44)
Brent Crude
54.81
(-1.30)
Palladium
2352.23
(+0.52)
All Share
63987.92
(-0.29)
Top 40
58886.26
(-0.14)
Financial 15
11685.83
(-2.13)
Industrial 25
86576.24
(+1.21)
Resource 10
62699.98
(-1.34)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo