UN agencies, including UNICEF, WHO are investigating allegations of sexual abuse by DR Congo workers

UNICEF on Wednesday became the third UN agency to launch an internal investigation into the sexual abuse of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and promised “serious consequences” for possible sins.

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The Children’s Fund said in a statement that it was “shocked that people identifying themselves as UNICEF workers have allegedly abused vulnerable women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

It was not immediately clear how many UNICEF staff had been charged.

“There will be serious consequences for any staff who have been found to have sexually abused people,” it added.

Earlier Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was also investigating allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of one of its staff during the DRC’s Ebola crisis, while the World Health Organization made a similar statement on Tuesday.

The statements come after a years-long investigation report released 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 organizations of sexual exploitation, including proposing them, forcing them to have sex in return for a job or terminating contracts when they refused .

The alleged abuses took place during the Ebola crisis 2018-2020.

‘Victims must come forward’

The similarity between the accounts given by women in the eastern city of Beni indicated that the practice was widespread, the report says.

UNICEF said it “encourages all victims to come forward”, adding that it has “strengthened our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse” in the last two years and has now sent additional staff to the DRC to investigate the latest allegations.

“Such abuses by UN staff and other humanitarian workers are an outrageous breach of trust with those we have a mandate to support, often in very trying humanitarian circumstances,” the IOM said earlier Wednesday.

Following a “serious accusation” against a particular IOM employee, the agency is “determined to investigate and eradicate these shocking abuses, no matter where and when they occur,” it added.

About a billion dollars in aid along with an army of external specialists flowed into the DRC after the much-feared bleeding fever Ebola appeared in its unstable east in 2018.

This outbreak was declared on June 25 this year, after 2,287 lives were lost – the highest Ebola toll in DRC history and the second highest in the world after the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that killed 11,000 people.

‘Evil’ within the WHO

On Tuesday, the WHO said its management and staff were “outraged” at reports of sexual abuse by people who said they worked for the UN health agency.

“The actions allegedly taken by individuals who identify themselves as working for the WHO are unacceptable and will be investigated robustly,” it said in a statement.

The WHO pointed out that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse.”

It added its CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had launched a thorough review of the allegations, which it did not elaborate.

DR Congo is currently battling a new Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, which has seen around 120 cases and 50 deaths since June.

The outbreak is the DRC’s 11th and its third in the last two years.

(AFP)

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