December 15, 2023
WHO, paying $250 to sexual assault victims in DRC, proves the world justice system is broken
November 20, 2023, London, United Kingdom. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, speaking at the Global Food Security Summit.
When discussing the “purely good” organisations in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) is typically the first that comes to mind for many, including myself.
It has been long viewed as an illustrative example of morals and ethics. However, the recent news crashed this perception and I too am about to crash it for you.
Between 2018 and 2020, the WHO was sent to handle the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
During this period, more than 80 aid workers, including some employed by the WHO, as well as UNICEF, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, International Organisation for Migration, World Vision and ALIMA, were accused of involvement in a sexual assault scandal.
More than 100 local women reportedly fell victim to sexual abuse by aid workers handling the crisis. A panel commissioned by the WHO found that the youngest alleged victim was just 13 years-old at the time of the abuse.
According to the panel’s report, women were coerced by alleged perpetrators who either promised employment or threatened them with job loss, drugged them, or ambushed them at workplaces.
The report led to the director-general of the WHO, apologising to the victims. “I’m sorry for what was done to you by people who are employed by WHO to serve and protect you. What happened to you should never happen to anyone. We must have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse and zero tolerance for inaction against it,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Reuters, which conducted an investigation, reported that a 14 year-old girl named “Jolianne” recounted being offered a ride home by a WHO driver, only to be taken to a hotel where she claims she was raped, which led to her giving birth to a child.
“Jolianne” was not the only one. According to other sources, women became pregnant as a result of the assault, as a lot of the perpetrators refused to use protection. Now, many of them have to not only support themselves and their relatives but also their children conceived as a result of a crime.
In early 2023, Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, who leads the WHO’s efforts to prevent sexual abuse, visited Congo to address the “biggest known sex scandal in the U.N. health agency’s history.”
Despite all that, the WHO decided to compensate the identified victims, paying $250 each to at least 104 women. However, this amount, totalling $26,000, is a mere 1% of the $2 million “survivors assistance fund” the WHO possesses.
Shockingly, about half received no compensation, supposedly because they were “hard to reach.”
If that is not upsetting enough, according to the AP Investigations, a senior official at the WHO was informed of abuse claims during the Ebola relief mission in Congo when the abuse was happening but took no action.
AP also found out that the alleged perpetrators would most likely not be prosecuted, instead they would only have their contracts with the WHO terminated. Supporting the idea that when you are in a position of power and come to a struggling country, you may abuse that power without facing the consequences.
The Financial Times reported how the WHO have reinstated two managers accused of mishandling the DRC sex scandal.
We should recognise that the fundamental problem lies in the systemic power dynamics we allow to remain in place, allowing those in positions of power to believe they are invincible.
In the end, those without privileges are left with so-called compensation and a traumatic memory for the rest of their lives.