An unknown number of additional women have accused World Health Organization (W.H.O.) staff of sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) during the agency’s response to the country’s Ebola outbreak from August 2018 to June 2020, Reuters reported Wednesday.
“More people [have] come forward alleging abuses by aid workers at the time,” Reuters paraphrased Dr. Gaya Gamhewage — the W.H.O.’s acting director of prevention and response to sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment — as saying on October 27.
“We have heard through the inter-agency network that there are more complaints in Goma,” she said. Goma is the capital of D.R.C.’s North Kivu province.
Gamhewage said she could not verify the exact number of new allegations as she “did not have access to the complaints due to confidentiality issues.”
Several local residents of the D.R.C.’s North Kivu and Ituri regions have accused at least 21 W.H.O. staff members of perpetrating acts of “sexual abuse and exploitation (S.E.A.)” against them during a period spanning August 2018 to June 2020. The W.H.O. employees were stationed in eastern D.R.C. as part of the United Nations (U.N.) health agency’s response to a regional Ebola outbreak. An independent commission contracted by the W.H.O. to investigate the allegations of S.E.A. published its initial findings on September 28.
Several accusers told the commission they became pregnant as a result of their rapes. Some further claimed their alleged rapists forced them to undergo abortions upon learning of their unplanned pregnancies.
“Some alleged victims reported that no protection was used during sex,” the commission wrote in a summary of its preliminary findings. “In some cases, the alleged perpetrator of sexual exploitation and abuse refused to use a condom.”
“Six alleged victims claimed to have suffered miscarriages,” according to the report. “Other alleged victims told investigators that some of the men who abused them also coerced them into having an abortion when they became pregnant, if necessary, by giving them drugs or even injections.”
The September 28 report alluded to the possibility of further allegations surfacing in the near future. The commission said at the time its findings were “not an exhaustive list of alleged victims or perpetrators” during the August 2018 to June 2020 time period. The investigative panel said it “continues to receive reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse” committed during the 22-month W.H.O. mission.