Posted October 3, 2020 9:28 am by

UN, NGOs shaken by DR Congo sex abuse claims

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Oct 3 – The humanitarian world has pledged to combat the scourge of sexual abuse within its ranks following shock revelations of alleged exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a report published this week, more than 50 women levelled accusations against aid workers from the World Health Organization (WHO), other UN agencies and major non-governmental organisations during the 2018-2020 Ebola crisis in the volatile eastern DR Congo.

A year-long investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian contained allegations of sexual exploitation, including propositioning women, forcing them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminating contracts when they refused.

“The largest number of accusations — made by 30 women — involved men who identified themselves as being with the WHO,” the report said.

The WHO insisted Friday it was taking the “horrific” allegations “deadly seriously” and had launched an investigation.

The other UN agencies accused — the International Organization for Migration and the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF — plus NGOs cited have done likewise.

– ‘Of a certain morality’ –

The Congolese authorities and civil society have joined the chorus of outrage.

In a report published this week, more than 50 women levelled accusations against aid workers from the World Health Organization (WHO), other UN agencies and major non-governmental organisations © AFP/File / Fabrice COFFRINI

“On behalf of the government, I condemn this kind of attitude,” said government spokesman David Jolino Makelele.

“We are going to strengthen our control over these kinds of missions,” he told Top Congo radio.

“We want them to send to us people of a certain morality.”

Congolese 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege urged victims to file complaints.

“We have very courageous jurists and lawyers. I do not think they will back down in the face of international organisations,” said the gynaecologist, who defends female victims of sexual violence.

The UN says it has learned from previous sexual abuse scandals, such as that involving peacekeepers in the Central African Republic in 2014 and 2015.

“We have now at the UN secretariat a database to which the agencies report in real time any abuse allegation,” Alessandra Vellucci, spokeswoman for the UN in Geneva, told reporters on Friday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has “a zero tolerance policy”, she stressed.

– Failing alert system –

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the system to help people to come forward clearly “doesn’t seem to have worked”.

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