Credit: GIN photo

Facing a devastating report by the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledging sexual exploitation of Congolese women by WHO and local staff, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi has called for a “frank” judicial collaboration between national and international authorities on the matter.

The sexual violence committed by WHO agents allegedly took place during the response to the Ebola epidemic between 2018 and 2020, an official source said. An independent commission of inquiry identified 83 alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom were WHO employees.

The commission, set up by the head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, after revelations in the press, denounced “structural failures” and “individual negligence.”

Mr. Tedros said he was “sorry” to the victims and promised “severe consequences” to those responsible just after the report was published.

In its long-awaited report, the commission found that at least 21 of 83 suspected perpetrators were employed by the WHO, and that the abuses, which included nine allegations of rape, were committed by both national and international staff.

“The review team has established that the presumed victims were promised jobs in exchange for sexual relations or in order to keep their jobs,” commission member Malick Coulibaly told a press briefing.

Many of the male perpetrators refused to use a condom and 29 of the women became pregnant and some were forced to later abort by their abusers, he added.

“The review team has established that the presumed victims were promised jobs in exchange for sexual relations or in order to keep their jobs,” commission member Malick Coulibaly told a press briefing.

Many of the male perpetrators refused to use a condom and 29 of the women became pregnant and some were forced to later abort by their abusers, he added.

Director Ghebreyesus apologized to the victims.

“What happened to you should never happen to anyone. It is inexcusable. It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused but are held to account,” he said, promising further steps including “wholesale reform of our structures and culture.”

The known perpetrators have been banned from future WHO employment while the contracts of four people employed by the body have been terminated, officials said.

Some women who were already employed told the review team that they continued to be sexually harassed by men in supervisory positions who forced them to have sex to keep their jobs, get paid or get a better paid position.

Some said they had been dismissed for refusing sex while others did not get the jobs they wanted even after consenting. Regional director Matshidiso Moeti said the health body was “humbled, horrified and heartbroken” by the findings. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson also apologized and thanked victims for their courage in testifying.