UN migration agency probing DRC sex abuse allegation
The International Organization for Migration said Wednesday it was investigating allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by one of its staff during the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the second UN agency to do so.
The IOM said it was “gravely concerned” and would immediately investigate a “serious allegation against an IOM worker”, the day after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was probing similar accusations.
The statements come after a year-long investigative report published Tuesday by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian.
It found that more than 50 women had accused Ebola aid workers from the WHO and leading non-governmental organisations of sexual exploitation, including propositioning them, forcing them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminating contracts when they refused.
The alleged abuses took place during the 2018-2020 Ebola crisis.
The similarities between the accounts given by women in the eastern city of Beni suggested the practices were widespread, the report said.
“Such abuses by UN personnel and other humanitarian workers are an outrageous breach of trust with those we are mandated to support, often in very trying humanitarian circumstances,” the IOM said Wednesday.
“IOM is determined to investigate and eradicate these shocking abuses wherever and whenever they occur.”
Around a billion dollars in aid, along with an army of external specialists, flooded into the DRC after the much-feared haemorrhagic fever surfaced in its volatile east in 2018.
That outbreak was declared over on June 25 this year after 2,287 lives were lost — the highest Ebola toll in the DRC’s history and the second highest in the world, after the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that killed 11,000 people.
– ‘Outrage’ at WHO –
On Tuesday, the WHO said its leadership and staff were “outraged” by reports of sexual abuse by people saying they were working for the UN health agency in the Ebola fight.
“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated,” it said in a statement.
“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” it said, stressing that “we do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners.”
WHO pointed out that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal,” it said.
The WHO did not spell out the specific allegations.
The WHO said its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had initiated a thorough review into the allegations, as well as “broader protection issues in health emergency response settings.”
The DR Congo is currently battling a fresh Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, which has seen some 120 cases and 50 deaths since June.
The outbreak is DRC’s 11th, and its third in the past two years.