Panel finds 80 alleged abuse cases tied to WHO’s DR Congo work

BRAZIL - 2019/06/01: In this photo illustration a World Health Organization (WHO) logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Twenty-one workers for the World Health Organization in Congo have been accused of sexually abusing people during a Ebola outbreak, a WHO-commissioned investigative panel said Tuesday in a report that identified 83 alleged perpetrators connected to the 2018-2020 mission.

The panel released its findings months after an Associated Press investigation found senior WHO management was informed of multiple abuse claims in 2019 but failed to stop the harassment and even promoted one of the managers involved.

“This is 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,” said Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Campaign, which is campaigning to end sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers.

Panel member Malick Coulibaly said investigators uncovered a total of nine rape allegations. The women interviewed said their attackers used no birth control, resulting in some pregnancies. Some women said their rapists had forced them to have abortions, Coulibaly said.

The panel recommended that WHO provide reparations to victims and set up DNA testing to establish paternity and enable women to assert their rights and those of their children.

WHO chief Tedros appointed the panel’s co-chairs to investigate the claims last October after media reports claimed unnamed humanitarian officials sexually abused women during the Ebola outbreak that began in Congo in 2018.

He called the report “harrowing” reading and a “dark day” for the UN. health agency. Tedros said four people have been fired and two placed on administrative leave as a result of the scandal, but he did not name them.

The WHO chief also declined to say if he would consider resigning; Germany, France and several other European countries nominated Tedros for a second term last week.

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