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An independent commission has reported incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo during an Ebola crisis between 2018 to 2020. The report listed more than 80 aid workers involved, which includes some employed by the World Health Organization.

According to Reuters, the commission found that out of 83 suspected offenders, 21 were under the employment of the WHO. A previous investigation last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian had prompted the new probe with Commission member Malick Coulibaly citing the report had more than 50 women accusing aid workers from other charities and the WHO demanding sex in exchange for jobs.

Many of the accounts from women suggests this practice was widespread with most of them plied with drinks. Others got ambushed in offices and hospitals while some of the women reported being locked in rooms and were threatened if they did not comply to their wishes.

The said abuses involved allegations of rape committed by both national and international staff where most of the male offenders refused to wear condoms leading to pregnancies of 29 women. The report also stated that some of the women were forced by their abusers into abortion.

In a press briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus apologized to the victims and pledged zero tolerance for such inexcusable actions. "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.” Ghebreyesus said the report was an agonizing read and promised a “wholesale reform of our structures and culture”.

All offenders have now been banned from future employment with the WHO with other contracts of those involved in the case having also been terminated. As of this time, it is not yet clear if the offenders will face prosecution although Ghebreyesus said he plans to hand over allegations of rape to Congo and the countries of the suspects. The human rights minister of Congo did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

Co-chair of the investigation Aïchatou Mindaoudou said some people in the higher ups of the WHO have been made aware of what was going on but took no action.

One victim, a 14-year-old girl, told the investigating commission that she was raped by a WHO driver in April 2019. She was selling phone recharge cards on the side of the road in Mangina, when the driver offered her a ride home. Instead, she was taken to a hotel where she was raped. The girl later gave birth to the driver’s child.

Representational image of Congo women
Women discuss the state of the Nyiragongo volcano disaster at the Kayembe camp for dislaced people, near Goma on August 30, 2021. - 4,000 or so households living in a camp for displaced people set up in a schoolyard in Kayembe, 4 km north of Goma. More than three months after the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of people are still living in makeshift shelters around Goma and calling for help. Photo by Guerchom Ndebo/AFP via Getty Images

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