WHO: Ebola Responders Allegedly Sexually Abused Women in Congo

A World Health Organization investigation has found that dozens of women were allegedly sexually abused and exploited by international staff and locals hired to respond to an Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.The WHO appointed a fi…

A World Health Organization investigation has found that dozens of women were allegedly sexually abused and exploited by international staff and locals hired to respond to an Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The WHO appointed a five-member independent commission in October 2020 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by its staff in Congo’s Ituri and North and South Kivu provinces.

Senior WHO officials call the results, released Tuesday, horrifying and heartbreaking.

The commission found that more than 80 alleged cases of sexual abuse occurred during the outbreak between August 2018 and June 2020. Most of the victims were uneducated women ages 13 to 43.

Commission member Malick Coulibaly said most of the women who testified said they had been forced to exchange sex for the promise of a job. He said some of the sexual exploitation and abuse was organized through a network operating through the local branch that recruited people to work on the Ebola response.

“Most victims did not get the jobs that they were promised in spite of the fact that they agreed to sexual relations,” Coulibaly said through an interpreter. “Some women declared that they continued to be sexually harassed by men and they were obliged to have sexual relations to be able to keep their job or even to be paid.”

Coulibaly added that some women had been dismissed for having refused sexual relations. The panel reports nine women were raped.

Women who were interviewed said none of the perpetrators had used birth control, and some who became pregnant said the men who had abused them forced them to have abortions.

The investigation found 21 of the 83 alleged perpetrators were WHO staff, some Congolese, some from abroad. The other alleged perpetrators were contractors such as drivers and security personnel.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the document as harrowing reading.

“The conduct it describes is a sickening betrayal of the people we serve,” he said. “It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused but are held to account. … And I will take personal responsibility for making whatever changes we need to make to prevent this happening in future.”

Tedros said four WHO staff have been fired and two have been put on administrative leave. He said the alleged perpetrators of rape will be referred to national authorities in Congo for investigation.

The WHO chief also said that all victims of sexual exploitation and abuse will have access to the services they need, including medical and psychosocial support, and that assistance for their children’s education will be provided.

Source: Voice of America

Mali Seeking ‘Better Ways’ to Contain Terrorism

Mali’s interim government appears ready to cast aside long-standing counterterrorism partnerships with the United States and France, saying that both countries have failed to make Mali any safer.But at the same time, Mali’s prime minister says reports …

Mali’s interim government appears ready to cast aside long-standing counterterrorism partnerships with the United States and France, saying that both countries have failed to make Mali any safer.

But at the same time, Mali’s prime minister says reports of a deal to bring in mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group are just “rumors and allegations.”

“The security situation keeps deteriorating by the day,” Choguel Maiga told VOA in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly late Sunday.

“Despite the fact that Mali has a lot of partners on the ground, we have to find new partners who can help improve the security situation,” Maiga added. “We can seek partnership either with Russia or with any other country.”

Reports of a deal between Mali’s interim government and Russia’s Wagner Group first emerged earlier this month, with Reuters reporting that Mali would pay $10.8 million a month to bring in about 1,000 mercenaries to train Mali’s military and provide security for senior officials.

‘A real concern’

U.S. and French officials have expressed their growing concern that the introduction of Russian mercenaries will do more damage than good.

“We don’t think looking to outside forces to provide security is the way forward,” a senior administration official said Friday in response to a question from VOA about the potential deal with Moscow. “That is not how to best start down the road to true stability.”

French officials have also expressed growing alarm, both in public and private, about the possible deal with the Russian firm.

“We want the return of the Malian state, not the arrival of Russian mercenaries,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted last week. “We are for the sovereignty of Mali, not for its weakening.”

Another official with knowledge of the matter called the potential deployment of Wagner mercenaries “a real concern.”

“Such a perspective is not a viable and reasonable solution for Mali and the Sahel,” the official told VOA on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation, adding that Malian officials need only to look at developments in the Central African Republic to see the dangers.

“The situation we are currently observing in Central Africa, a country in which more than 2,000 Wagner mercenaries are present, reinforces our view that such a force is pursuing a predatory agenda,” the official said. “Wagner is exploiting mining areas and controlling Central Africa customs and, above all, is guilty of serious abuses against the civilian population abuses highlighted by the U.N. in several reports.”

Russia has denied any abuses by contractors there.

Mali’s prime minister, while denying that a deal with Wagner had been finalized, dismissed the idea that the U.S., France and other countries had any right to criticize the interim government.

“All those countries of the international community which are opposing any partnership between Mali and the Wagner Group, all those countries are present there for the past eight years,” Maiga told VOA.

“I can only say that the government of Mali is assessing the situation, is seeking better ways,” he said. “The day we reach any agreement we will say it, and everybody will know. Whether it is with the Russian state, whether it is with another entity, people will find out.”

Moscow open to deal

In contrast to denials from Malian officials, however, Russian officials have welcomed talk of the potential deal with Wagner.

“They are combating terrorism,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a news conference at the U.N. on Saturday. “And they have turned to a private military company from Russia in connection with the fact that, as I understand, France wants to significantly draw down its military component.”

“We don’t have anything to do with that,” Lavrov said, adding, “at the government level, we are also contributing to providing for military and defense capacities of Mali.”

Many Western governments, though, insist that there is little practical difference between the Kremlin and the exploits of the Wagner Group, run by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, sometimes called “Putin’s cook” because of his catering company’s work for Russian President Vladimir Putin, is thought to have extensive ties to Russia’s political and military establishments, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The U.S. State Department sanctioned Prigozhin and Wagner back in July 2020, as well as several front companies for the group’s operations in Sudan.

Source: Voice of America