The World Health Organization, facing pressure from donors, said an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) against WHO workers should publish conclusions by the end of ‘August.
A report by the Associated Press news agency earlier this month said internal emails revealed that WHO management was aware of sexual abuse claims in the DRC in 2019 and was asked how to manage them.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the organization’s annual ministerial session that some states were frustrated by the pace of the investigation. The allegations “undermine confidence in the WHO and threaten the critical work we are doing,” he said Friday.
The independent commission established its base in Goma in March and hired a research company that began field investigations in early May, Tedros said.
Despite security challenges in the DRC’s North Kivu region and last week’s volcanic eruptions, he said: “The team is doing everything possible to complete its work on time for the commission to deliver its report at the end of August 2021 “.
Earlier, 53 countries sounded the alarm over reports that WHO leaders were aware of allegations of sexual abuse against United Nations agency staff and did not report them.
In a joint statement, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan and others demanded that WHO leaders show “strong and exemplary leadership” in the prevention of sexual abuse.
Delivering the joint statement to the main WHO annual assembly, Canadian Ambassador Leslie Norton said the tone “needs to be set from above” and that all 53 countries wanted “credible results” in time. to address the issue.
“Since January 2018, we have raised deep concerns about allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as abuse of authority in relation to WHO activities,” he said. to say.
At a program meeting, the budget and the management committee of the WHO executive committee last week, member states and the WHO secretariat discussed the issue in a “robust and transparent” way, according to the statement. .
“We expressed our alarm at the suggestions of the media that the WHO management was aware of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment and had not reported it, as required by the protocol of the “UN and WHO, as well as for the allegations that WHO staff acted to suppress the cases.”
Countries, including Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland and Uruguay, said cultural change between organizations and societies was needed to adequately address the problem.
“It requires solid and exemplary leadership on the part of managers and leaders of an entire organization, with the tone set from the top,” they said, stressing that they wanted “appropriate disciplinary action” where allegations were confirmed. .
The WHO and two UN agencies were left behind last September after a report documented the alleged exploitation and abuse of women by UN agency staff during the 2018-2020 Ebola crisis of the DRC.
The WHO, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Children’s Fund were cited in a research report published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian.
The one-year investigation found that more than 50 women had accused humanitarian workers of Ebola – mainly the WHO, but also other UN agencies and leading non-governmental organizations – of sexual exploitation. including propositions that forced them to have sex in exchange for a job or terminate contracts when they refused.
The similarities between the stories of women in the eastern DRC city of Beni suggested that the practices were widespread, according to the report.
A report by the WHO external auditor, presented on Friday, said that last year there were 14 cases of sexual misconduct involving WHO employees, including the case of the DRC, compared to 11 of 2019.
“The number of complaints or allegations of misconduct reflects an organization’s ethical climate and its‘ superior tone, ’” the report said, “and therefore a growing trend in such complaints should be a cause for concern. for Management. “