It was recently reported that the World Health Organization has identified more than 80 cases of sexual abuse during the United Nation’s response to the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in Congo.
This includes 20 WHO staff members and had been reported back in May that the senior WHO management knew all about the allegations and did nothing to stop the harassment. This is one of the biggest cases of sexual wrongdoing linked to a UN institution in years, which has many questioning about the authenticity and righteousness in such a wide-scale organization.
The Who’s regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti reacted to the news saying she was “humbled, horrified, and heartbroken” by the findings of the inquiry.
“Sincerely my heart goes out to all the affected women. Sexual exploitation and abuse is an unacceptable human rights violation & a deep betrayal of WHO’s core values,” Moeti tweeted.
Moeti went on to thank the Commission for holding the perpetrators to account and continuing to strengthen the systems.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the document “harrowing” to read and said he has asked the Independent Commission to look into the cases that are alleged to WHO employees. He said he hopes that the other investigations are pursued by the relevant organizations and that he will take “personal responsibility” for making whatever changes they need to prevent it from happening in the future.
He went on to emphasize that he will act immediately to support, protect, and do justice for the victims and their survivors. He said he also plans to address the management and staff failures, as well as the wholesale reform of the structures.
“What happened to you should never happen to anyone. It is inexcusable. It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused but are held to account,” Ghebreyesus said.
Co-director Paula Donovan of Code Blue, an organization that cracks down on sexual abuse, said it was the “biggest finding of sexual abuse perpetrated during a single U.N. initiative in one area or one country during the time-bound period of a U.N. response effort.”
The report includes nine alleged rapes, several of which resulted in abortions, as well as a total of 29 pregnancies among Congolese women from aid workers. While most of the pregnancies carried through birth, several ended in miscarriages and a few were forced into abortions by either an injection or other drugs.
One of the cases involved a 13-year-old girl who had been raped by a U.N worker. He offered her a ride home after she’d been selling phone cards on the roadside and, instead, took her to a hotel room where she was raped. She was the youngest of the victims.
Others shared that they had been promised jobs or told that they would not get jobs if they did not consent to have sex with the workers.
“To get ahead in the job, you had to have sex […] Everyone had sex in exchange for something. It was very common. I was even offered sex if I wanted to get a basin of water to wash in the base camp where we were staying during the retaliation,” one victim shared.
One of the investigators, Aïchatou Mindaoudou, shared that the WHO leaders were “very aware” of what was happening and did not act on it.
It is unknown if the accused perpetrators will face accountability and prosecution for their actions. Several WHO officials have already been fired and others have been banned from the organization entirely.
There has been a widespread problem of sexual misconduct within U.N forces, which gives President Joe Biden just another reason to leave the WHO. While the organization should not be deemed unworthy as a whole, most of these non-profit organizations have been set up for the elite to do whatever they want. The UN was doing the exact same thing during the Yugoslav War in the 90’s. It’s time for big organizations to go away – and for good.