World

Inside emails reveal WHO knew of intercourse abuse claims in Congo

BENI, Congo (AP) — When Shekinah was working as a nurse’s aide in northeastern Congo in January 2019, she mentioned, a World Well being Group physician supplied her a job investigating Ebola circumstances at double her earlier wage — with a catch.

“When he requested me to sleep with him, given the monetary difficulties of my household …. I accepted,” mentioned Shekinah, 25, who requested that solely her first title be used for worry of repercussions. She added that the physician, Boubacar Diallo, who usually bragged about his connections to WHO Director-Basic Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, additionally supplied a number of of her associates jobs in return for intercourse.

A WHO staffer and three Ebola consultants working in Congo throughout the outbreak individually advised administration about common intercourse abuse issues round Diallo, The Related Press has realized. They mentioned they have been advised to not take the matter additional.

WHO has been dealing with widespread public allegations of systemic abuse of girls by unnamed staffers, to which Tedros declared outrage and emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan mentioned, “We’ve got no extra data than you will have.” However an AP investigation has now discovered that regardless of its public denial of data, senior WHO administration was not solely knowledgeable of alleged sexual misconduct in 2019 however was requested learn how to deal with it.

The AP has additionally for the primary time tracked down the names of two docs accused of sexual misconduct, Diallo and Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, each of whom have been reported to WHO.

Ngandu was accused by a younger girl of impregnating her. In a notarized contract obtained by the AP, two WHO staffers, together with a supervisor, signed as witnesses to an settlement for Ngandu to pay the younger girl, cowl her well being prices and purchase her land. The deal was made “to guard the integrity and repute” of WHO, Ngandu mentioned.

When reached by the AP, each Diallo and Ngandu denied wrongdoing. The investigation was based mostly on interviews with dozens of WHO staffers, Ebola officers in Congo, non-public emails, authorized paperwork and recordings of inner conferences obtained by the AP.

A senior supervisor, Dr. Michel Yao, obtained emailed complaints about each males. Yao did not fireplace Ngandu regardless of the reported misconduct. Yao did not have the facility to terminate Diallo, a Canadian, who was on a special type of contract, however neither he nor another WHO managers put Diallo on administrative depart.

The AP was unable to determine whether or not Yao forwarded both grievance to his superiors or the company’s inner investigators, as required by WHO protocol. Yao has since been promoted to be director of Geneva’s Strategic Well being Operations Division.

Eight high officers privately acknowledged that WHO had didn’t successfully deal with sexual exploitation throughout the Ebola outbreak and that the issue was systemic, recordings of inner conferences present. The revelations come at a time when the U.N. well being company is winding down its response to 2 latest Ebola epidemics in Congo and Guinea, and is already beneath stress for its administration of the worldwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO declined to touch upon particular intercourse abuse allegations, and not one of the 12 WHO officers contacted responded to repeated requests for remark. Spokeswoman Marcia Poole famous that Tedros introduced an unbiased investigation of intercourse abuse in Congo after media studies got here out in October. Findings are due at earliest in August, investigators have mentioned.

“As soon as we now have these, we’ll overview them fastidiously and take applicable extra actions,” Poole mentioned. “We’re conscious that extra work is required to attain our imaginative and prescient of emergency operations that serve the susceptible whereas defending them from all types of abuse.”

WHO’s code of conduct for staffers says they’re “by no means to interact in acts of sexual exploitation” and to “keep away from any motion that could possibly be perceived as an abuse of privileges,” reflecting the unequal energy dynamic between visiting docs and economically susceptible ladies. However an inner WHO audit final yr discovered some assist staff weren’t required to finish the company’s coaching on intercourse abuse prevention earlier than beginning work throughout Ebola.

“All of us might have been suspecting for so long as the Ebola response was taking (place) that one thing like this could be potential,” mentioned Andreas Mlitzke, director of WHO’s workplace of compliance, threat administration and ethics, throughout an inner assembly in November. Mlitzke likened WHO officers in Congo to “an invading pressure” and mentioned, “Issues like this have traditionally occurred in wartime.”

Mlitzke mentioned throughout the assembly that WHO sometimes “takes the passive strategy” in its investigations, and that it could not be anticipated to uncover wrongdoing amongst staffers.

“What prevents us from doing one thing proactive is our personal psychology,” he mentioned.

Ryan, in the meantime, mentioned the sexual harassment incidents have been unlikely to be distinctive.

“You possibly can’t simply pin this and say you will have one area operation that went badly unsuitable,” he advised his colleagues in an inner assembly. “It does replicate a tradition as properly … That is in some sense the tip of an iceberg.”

Inside emails from November 2019 present WHO administrators have been alarmed sufficient by the abuse complaints that they drafted a method to stop sexual exploitation and appointed two “focal factors” to liaise with colleagues in Congo and elsewhere. Administrators additionally ordered confidential probes into sexual abuse issues extra broadly and U.N coaching on learn how to stop sexual harassment, together with the unbiased investigation introduced final yr.

However staffers stay involved that not sufficient has been performed. At a WHO assembly in January to deal with intercourse abuse, Dr. Renee Van de Weerdt, chief of emergency administration and help, advised colleagues that the chance “stays excessive throughout our operations” and that “extra sturdy supervision” was wanted.

Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, head of WHO’s studying and capability improvement, mentioned at an inner WHO dialogue on intercourse abuse that “the impunity with which we now have operated is resulting in this.” She warned, “Coaching just isn’t going to unravel this drawback.”

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Shortly after Ebola was recognized in japanese Congo in 2018, WHO’s Swiss headquarters gave the outbreak its most critical emergency designation, permitting Geneva to take management from its Africa workplace. WHO chief Tedros traveled to Congo 14 occasions throughout the epidemic to personally oversee the response, and his emergencies chief, Ryan, made not less than seven visits.

Over 2018 and 2019, three Ebola consultants, together with two who labored for WHO on the time, advised the AP they raised issues about intercourse abuse generally, and Diallo specifically, with senior managers. However they mentioned they have been advised that controlling the Ebola outbreak was extra necessary, and two mentioned Diallo was thought-about “untouchable” due to his relationship with Tedros.

Complaints about Diallo have been additionally raised with emergency operations supervisor Yao, who was answerable for main WHO’s general Ebola response in Congo, with tons of of employees, beneath Ryan’s supervision. On Feb. 22, 2019, Yao obtained an electronic mail from the WHO outbreak group chief in North Kivu with the topic line, “Personal. Chat.”

“Chief, please let’s have a Personal chat tomorrow,” the staffer emailed, saying he wished to debate Diallo, then an outbreak supervisor in North Kivu. The staffer did not need to be recognized by the AP for worry of dropping his job.

“We can’t afford to have folks tarnishing the sweat and energy of people sacrificing themselves through (sic) inappropriate sexual harassment and bullying,” the staffer wrote. “I’ll fill you in (in) non-public.”

Yao responded the following morning: “Okay we will speak.” The staffer mentioned that Yao advised him the matter can be dealt with, however he didn’t imagine his issues have been taken critically and was very upset. He added that he was sidelined for complaining about Diallo.

Two WHO officers with data of the scenario mentioned the company investigated complaints that Diallo acted unprofessionally, together with an alleged sexual assault, and there was inadequate proof to corroborate the fees. However investigators didn’t interview any of the ladies concerned or the whistleblowers who flagged the harassment claims, based on a senior WHO official who did not need to be recognized for worry of dropping his job. Diallo continued to work for WHO months after issues have been raised about him.

Diallo was described as a charismatic, outgoing chief with connections to a few of WHO’s high managers, together with Tedros. In a speech in January 2019, Tedros singled out Diallo among the many Ebola responders working beneath heavy gunfire in Beni.

On WHO’s web site, Diallo, Tedros and Yao are pictured smiling and bumping elbows throughout Tedros’ June 2019 journey to Congo. On Diallo’s Fb web page, he seems in additional than a dozen images with Tedros.

A number of months after Tedros’ go to, Diallo met Anifa, a younger Congolese girl working in an Ebola remedy heart in Beni. She mentioned Diallo advised her: “How can a phenomenal woman such as you work right here, testing folks’s temperatures and washing their arms? That’s horrible.” She mentioned he supplied her one other job at 5 occasions greater than her present wage the place “the circumstances have been quite simple,” based on him.

“He wished me to sleep with him,” she advised the AP, noting that Diallo often wore a badge with “VIP” inscribed in pink, connected to his darkish blue WHO vest. Anifa declined to share her full title, fearing it may hurt her future job prospects. The AP does not determine victims of sexual abuse.

“I advised him I studied laborious to be employed by the remedy heart,” Anifa mentioned. She rejected Diallo’s provide, saying that “if he hires me after sleeping with him … I might be a intercourse slave, not a WHO worker.”

Diallo denied the claims outright.

“I’ve by no means supplied a lady a job in trade for intercourse and I’ve by no means sexually harassed a lady in my life,” he advised the AP in an electronic mail. He mentioned he was by no means knowledgeable of any complaints about his habits at WHO or disciplined for misconduct, and his relationship with Tedros was “purely skilled.”

Diallo mentioned his contract for WHO completed on the finish of July and he hasn’t labored for the company since.

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The identical supervisor, Yao, was additionally advised of alleged sexual misconduct by the opposite physician, Ngandu, in an electronic mail obtained by the AP dated April 23, 2019, with the topic line, “Pressing want in your steering.” Outbreak supervisor Mory Keita wrote in French: “I hereby inform you that we now have a colleague who has impregnated a woman from Beni.”

Keita advised Yao {that a} younger girl and her aunt had come to the Lodge Okapi in Beni with two armed law enforcement officials, in search of senior WHO employees. They mentioned the younger girl had been having an affair with Ngandu, and the hospital had confirmed she was now pregnant. Ngandu was avoiding them, the aunt mentioned, so that they went to the police to seek out him.

Keita advised Yao that when confronted, Ngandu acknowledged a relationship with the woman however mentioned it was just for two weeks. The lady’s aunt, nonetheless, mentioned her niece first spent the evening with him a couple of month and a half in the past, and on the time he gave her $100, “a element that Ngandu couldn’t deny,” the e-mail famous.

The 2 ladies demanded cost for all drugs and hospital remedy throughout being pregnant and the acquisition of land for the kid, “on condition that Dr. Jean-Paul will abandon the woman and he or she can be obliged to boost her youngster alone.”

“We’ve got requested Jean-Paul to honor the request from the household of the woman and the aunt and attempt to discover some widespread floor,” Keita mentioned. “(Ngandu) urged that we handle the scenario right here at our stage right here in Beni and never inform the hierarchy, however I felt … try to be knowledgeable so that you’d inform us your instructions for learn how to higher handle this drawback.”

Lower than one week later, Ngandu and the younger girl signed a notarized contract wherein he agreed to pay her $100 a month till her child was delivered, to supply all crucial well being care, and to purchase her a plot of land in Beni. 4 witnesses signed the doc, together with two from WHO, Keita and Achile Mboko, a human assets officer. Keita did not reply to requests for remark, and Mboko acknowledged his signature and presence.

Two handwritten contracts signed by the younger girl and Ngandu confirmed he paid $2,800 for land with a home in a Beni neighborhood and transferred possession rights to her in August 2019.

“This was a non-public matter and didn’t implicate WHO,” Ngandu advised the AP. Ngandu mentioned he wasn’t the daddy of the infant and that he agreed to the settlement after WHO colleagues, together with Keita, “suggested me to settle out of court docket to keep away from sullying the repute of the group and myself.”

Ngandu, who’s from Congo, mentioned he wasn’t disciplined by WHO and continued to work till his contract resulted in June 2019. Ngandu is now based mostly in Namibia and mentioned he’s in talks with WHO for potential future employment. The younger girl declined to speak to the AP.

Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue Marketing campaign, which is campaigning to finish sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers, mentioned WHO’s try to successfully silence the sufferer was “past regarding.”

“It’s a perversion of justice that WHO thinks they may take the regulation into their very own arms and resolve a case with out going to the right authorities,” Donovan mentioned. “If that is how they handled one case, how are they treating all of the others?”

In Might 2019, Yao was advised of yet one more unrelated sexual harassment grievance in Bunia, roughly 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Beni. Two ladies advised the World Financial institution they have been refused jobs at WHO as a result of they declined to sleep with the recruiting officer, in an electronic mail seen by an Ebola assist employee. The help employee, who requested to stay nameless for worry of reprisals, advised the AP that the World Financial institution alerted Yao, however nothing was performed.

All through the summer season, Yao was praised for his management of the Ebola response. He was named in a July 17 tweet from Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson for the African Union, as certainly one of WHO’s “distinctive males” and was pictured alongside colleagues, together with Diallo. Kalondo urged her followers: “Know their names. Write about them.”

Two months later, a younger Congolese girl named Reby, then 20, met Diallo when he got here into the Vodacom store the place she was working. He gave her $100 for “transport prices” to fulfill him at a lodge and requested her how a lot she made within the telecommunications job, she advised the AP.

“My God, a phenomenal woman such as you who will get $60 a month just isn’t sufficient,” he mentioned, based on Reby. “Should you sleep with me, you’ll be a high-ranking member of the Ebola response in Beni and you’ll obtain round $800 a month.”

Reby declined to make use of her full title for worry of retribution. She mentioned she refused Diallo’s provide, however continued to see him when he got here into her store. “From that day on, he all the time referred to as me the tough woman,” she mentioned.

In a confidential slide presentation in January 2020, WHO officers reported that an inner U.N. overview of the Ebola response in Congo had discovered a necessity for “safe-guarding mechanisms for stopping sexual exploitation.” All employees have been to finish coaching on harassment and different points.

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The publication of common intercourse abuse allegations in Congo within the media final fall set off a flurry of responses from WHO.

Yao mentioned in an inner assembly in September that regardless of U.N. protocols to stop sexual abuse, “it appears to be like like this method just isn’t working on the grassroots stage.” He added {that a} latest U.N. evaluation hadn’t revealed any issues, “so we have been stunned a couple of case occurring.”

WHO director-general Tedros referred to as the allegations a “surprising” betrayal in an electronic mail to employees and promised “critical penalties,” together with instant dismissal and referral to native authorities.

At a city corridor assembly in November, emergencies chief Ryan mentioned sexual abuse points had been “uncared for” for years and apologized to his employees.

“There are behaviors right here that aren’t acceptable,” he mentioned.

WHO staffers, particularly ladies, have been unconvinced.

“Fairly frankly, I believe this isn’t adequate,” mentioned Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, on the identical assembly. “We all know in each scenario we go in, we’re in danger.”

“(It) doesn’t matter what number of processes you will have if the tradition is ‘flip a blind eye,’” wrote Linda Doull, coordinator of WHO’s international well being cluster, into the assembly’s chatroom.

Others mentioned WHO’s feigned ignorance of the sexual abuse issues in Congo was consistent with the company’s previous failures to self-discipline even felony actions.

“We had a employees member in our workplace beat his spouse with a concrete block on the roof of our workplace and his penalty was to lose one step of his grade,” wrote epidemiologist Boris Pavlin, into the group chat, referring to the U.N. system’s employees rating scale.

Staffers additionally apprehensive that issues continued within the company’s response to a different Ebola outbreak in Congo final yr.

“We nonetheless should not have a strong (sexual abuse prevention) program in place,” Geneva-based undertaking officer Jessica Kolmer mentioned throughout a gathering in November. She mentioned donors advised them their new measures, together with posting flyers of their places of work and establishing a sexual abuse prevention committee, have been “not ample.”

Again in Congo, Anifa mentioned she was deeply disturbed that WHO staffers hadn’t been disciplined for his or her remedy of girls.

“I condemn WHO for not sanctioning Dr. Boubacar Diallo as a result of I do know already they’ve complaints towards him,” she mentioned. “I requested myself, ‘Why did the individuals who got here to assist us, to struggle Ebola right here at house, why do they need to destroy our lives?’”

Shekinah mentioned she “couldn’t rely what number of occasions” she slept with Diallo. She mentioned she knew a couple of dozen different ladies in Beni whom he had equally victimized.

“I wished to give up,” she mentioned. “However due to my monetary issues, I endured it.”

Shekinah mentioned she was usually paid in money or cell credit score, with little paperwork. Even after she and Diallo separated, she mentioned, he continued to ask for nude footage or video calls whereas she was bare.

Diallo ought to be punished “for his sexual abuse of all these women in Beni as a lesson to those worldwide organizations that this could not occur once more,” she mentioned. “I would really like justice to be performed.”

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Maria Cheng reported from London. Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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