During the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 80 aid workers, including some employed by the World Health Organization (WHO), were involved in sexual abuse and exploitation, an independent commission reported on Tuesday.
The investigation was prompted by a Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian investigation last year in which more than 50 women accused aid workers from the WHO and other charities of demanding sex in exchange for jobs between 2018 and 2020.
The commission’s long-awaited report found that at least 21 of the 83 suspected perpetrators were employed by the WHO, and that the abuse, which included nine allegations of rape, was committed by both national and international staff.
Malick Coulibaly, a member of the commission, told a press briefing that the presumed victims were promised jobs in exchange for sexual relations.
Several of the male abusers failed to use condoms, which led to 29 women becoming pregnant and some of the women being forced to abort, he said.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general who has pledged zero tolerance for sexual abuse and who is seeking a second term at the United Nations health agency, said the report made for “harrowing reading” and apologized to the victims.
This should never have happened to you. It is inexcusable. It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused, but held accountable,” he said, promising further steps, including a “complete overhaul of our structures and culture”.
Health body director Matshidiso Moeti described the findings as “humbling, horrifying, and heartbreaking”. United Nations spokesperson Antonio Guterres also apologized and thanked victims for their courage in testifying.