DR Congo to probe allegations of sex abuse by Ebola workers

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BUTEMBO, CONGO - JULY 27: A healthcare member inoculates a man for Ebola suspicion to take precautions against the disease in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 27, 2019. (Photo by JC Wenga/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BUTEMBO, CONGO – JULY 27: A healthcare member inoculates a man for Ebola suspicion to take precautions against the disease in Butembo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 27, 2019. (Photo by JC Wenga/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

DR Congo said Thursday it would launch an inquiry into accusations that international workers in an anti-Ebola campaign had sexually abused local women.

A report last month said dozens of women described sexual exploitation by aid workers from the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and leading NGOs during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The Congolese government will act. We are going to set up an investigative team which will go to North Kivu (province) to carry out the inquiry there,” Health Minister Eteni Longondo told a press conference in Kinshasa.

The investigators will “establish who is responsible” and mete out punishment, he vowed.

The year-long probe by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian news organization took testimony from more than 50 women.

They said they were sexually propositioned, forced to have sex in exchange for a job or had their contracts terminated when they refused.

The WHO and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have each promised to carry out their own investigation.

In addition to the probe by the DRC authorities, “we contacted the WHO, which is going to organize an international inquiry because most of those implicated in this kind of sexual exploitation are international employees,” said Longondo.

He added that he had also contacted the UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF.

Longondo also said the government would launch a separate inquiry into employees with DR Congo nationality “in order to prevent this kind of behavior” in the latest outbreak of Ebola, in the northwest of the vast country.

“We will immediately prosecute anyone who is caught,” the minister promised.

Fifty people have died of the disease in Equateur province since June.

The 2018-20 epidemic, centered overwhelmingly in North Kivu, claimed 2,287 lives.

It was the second-highest toll in the 44-year history of Ebola, outstripped only by an outbreak in three West African countries between 2013 and 2016 that caused 11,000 deaths.

Around a billion dollars was spent to roll back the outbreak, bringing in well-heeled foreign workers into a deeply poor region.

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