Experts dismiss as “absurd” WHO’s excusal of staff sex misconduct in Congo
The restricted approach by the World Health Organization (WHO) in dealing with the misconduct of its staffers during an Ebola outbreak in Congo has been dismissed as “an absurdity”, two experts appointed by the UN agency to investigate allegations that some of its staffers sexually abused women in the African country.
In October 2020, Aichatou Mindaoudou and Julienne Lusenge were named by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to head a panel investigating reports that some WHO staffers sexually abused or exploited women in a conflict-ridden region of Congo during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak. Their review found there were at least 83 perpetrators of abuse who worked for WHO and partners, including complaints of rape, forced abortions and the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl, in the biggest known sex abuse scandal in the UN health agency’s history. But some of the victimized women say — nearly four years later — they are still waiting for WHO to fire those responsible or be offered any financial compensation.
The panel also found that three WHO managers mismanaged a sexual misconduct case first reported by the Associated Press. However, a confidential UN report has concluded that the managers’ handling of that case didn’t violate WHO’s sexual exploitation policies, because the woman wasn’t considered a “beneficiary” of WHO aid, since she didn’t receive any humanitarian assistance. “The restrictive approach favored by WHO is an absurdity,” Mindaoudou and Lusenge said in a statement, adding that beneficiaries of WHO “should only be interpreted in favor of potential victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, with the view of maintaining accountability.” To date, no senior managers at WHO linked to the sexual misconduct have been fired; Tedros said last month that because the UN report found there was no evidence managers acted improperly, three suspended officials returned to work.