WHO chief accepts ‘slow’ response to Congo sexual abuse claims

However, diplomats have already pressed WHO Director General Tedros Adnom Ghebayeus on the issue behind closed doors. At least six countries raised concerns last week about how the agency is dealing with sexual abuse and exploitation, citing recent press reports. Tedros tried to allay their concerns.

“I can understand the frustration,” he said in a committee meeting of the WHO Executive Board on 19 May. According to a recording of the meeting obtained by the AP, the director general said it took time to deal with the security problems in Congo. Establish a commission to investigate sexual abuse claims and to run and run the group.

Tedros said, “The way this thing used to go so far, although it was slow … I hope it satisfies.”

The WHO’s press office declined to comment on Tedros’ description of the slow response, but said the commission was “committed to a comprehensive investigation of all recent allegations, including those related to management actions.” The co-chairs of the group were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement with the WHO.

The panel constituted by the WHO does not include any law enforcement agencies investigating whether any alleged sexual exploitation was criminal and its report will only be submitted to the WHO.

Tedros made the panel in October after news about sexual abuse surfaced during the WHO’s efforts to curb the Ebola epidemic in the Congo from 2018 to 2020. At the time, Tedros said he was “outraged” and would move quickly to punish those responsible.

But after more than seven months, the panel has not yet publicly released any details about its work or findings. The group said the commission began its work in Congo on May 3 and is expected to publish a report in late August.

Many countries, citing AP’s recent story, said they expected more action.

“We have discussed the allegations in meetings with the WHO leadership,” Norway Foreign Minister Dag-Inge Ulstein said in an email. “We have reiterated the mandatory requirement to handle such allegations swiftly and completely.”

An AP investigation published earlier this month Members of WHO’s senior management were told about sexual abuse concerns in 2019 including at least two doctors appointed by the agency during the Ebola epidemic in Congo.

The AP obtained a notarized contract showing that two WHO staff members had signed an agreement by Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu to pay a young woman who was allegedly pregnant. Three women told the AP that another doctor, Baubaker Diallo, bragged on his relationship with WHO chief Tedros and offered the women a job in exchange for sex.

Even some employees of the WHO appear dissatisfied with how the agency has handled the claims.

The WHO staff committee wrote in an email to staff and senior management last week, “We ignore the signs of repeated, systemic failure of our organization to prevent such perceived behaviors and address them in a reasonable and timely manner. can not do.” The committee urged WHO directors to take immediate action on the allegations, including reports that “senior management may have suppressed concerns.”

Some countries told WHO’s top leadership during last week’s closed meetings that they expected more details.

According to a recording of the meeting, a Dutch government representative said, “Now that the WHO is supposed to be a beacon to help us out of this pandemic, it is very disappointing to learn of allegations of structural misconduct in cases of misconduct. ” . “Reading the (press) articles made us doubt whether many of our statements and discussions (at the WHO about sexual abuse) have actually been heard.”

The representative of the Netherlands called for more transparency to address the “trust gap that has begun to emerge in the region”.

Tedros’ cabinet chief, Dr. Catherine Boehm, responded that “some issues are still in progress.” She said WHO officials would soon meet with the Commission investigating Congolese sexual abuse allegations to discuss “an investigation surrounding failure to report or active repression, including allegations of cover-up”.

“We know there are weaknesses in the system, whether it is the WHO or the UN system,” said Dr. Ibrahima Soss Fall, Assistant Director General of WHO for Emergency Response.

USAID acting spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said the United States has also called for a “full and transparent investigation” and is “in close contact with the WHO concerning the allegations.”

Some experts said the WHO’s failure to quickly punish those involved in sexual misconduct was disappointing, but not surprising.

Asmita Naik, an international human rights consultant, said, “Aid organizations are operating in an accountability void, in a context where law and order is broken and where no external system is able to respond to them.” Sexual abuse involving UN personnel.

“Things will not change until the abuser or blindfolders are disciplined and vice versa rewarded,” Naik said.


Jamie Keaton in Geneva contributed to this report.


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