Congolese are reacting Wednesday following an apology by the World Health Organization (WHO) after independent investigators found personnel from the UN agency sexually abused women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“This is a dark day for WHO,” the agency’s head, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, said Tuesday about a report into accusations against local and international personnel deployed to fight an Ebola outbreak from 2018 to 2020.
Global Refugee Leaders Forum Executive Director Pecos Kilihoshi Musikami based in Goma, said the apology “is a positive move so far. If the WHO can publicly recognize what happened then that is a great move. The second move now is to ensure that justice is done on the side of the victims.”
He said sexual harassment victims must be compensated. “I did not hear WHO talking about reparation. It should be done.”
A female activist in South Kivu, Sandra Mbedde, said there is a need for the WHO to put mechanisms in place to stop such abuse of women. “On an operational level, the WHO should put in place measures so that such scandals do not occur again,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that some women were sexually abused,” said Ronald Muta, a secondary school teacher in Kasai province. “There is a need for the WHO to put on the ground necessary interventions. They should do all that is possible so that their workers do not get near to village women.”
Pastor Paul Leku in Aru territory said: “Such scandals by UN staff are not limited to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Everywhere where there is UN there are such scandals.”
A lawyer working with the refugee communities in the DRC, Gabriel Sagara said he first heard that locals were being abused a decade before the scandal came to be known by the world.
“I first heard of UN workers sexually harassing women in 2008 when I was still young. Two Lebanese peacekeepers involved in the scandal were deported. But that did not stop other incidents of the
same kind taking place,” he said.
Kilihoshi said sex harassment by WHO workers is not limited to men. “Some women staff at the UN use their power of being with much money to sexually abuse young men,” he said.
He added that limiting sex harassment by UN workers is not easy but tough punishments should be put in place to punish whoever is caught. Such action will likely limit the damages.