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UN launches hotlines after sex abuse allegations in Congo

The U.N. humanitarian agency urged heavy punishments Friday for aid workers and others who committed sex abuses during the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo, saying it has launched a hotline to receive complaints from victims.

Diego Zorrilla, deputy coordinator in Congo of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, made the announcement in the town of Beni, where dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct have been made by local women following the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak.

“We have launched hotlines to receive complaints from victims and to report all acts of rape within humanitarian organizations,” Zorrilla said. “We call on all humanitarian agencies to start monitoring all cases of sexual abuse in the region.”

“These allegations are individual but also the fault of their organizations because they do not punish them,” he added.

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The announcement by OCHA Friday comes after a series of media investigations by The Associated Press and others into allegations of abuses during the epidemic.

An independent commission investigating sex abuse allegations plans to publish its findings on Aug. 31.

However, British, European and American diplomats and donors already have voiced serious concerns about how the World Health Organization handled sex abuse allegations involving its own staff during the Ebola outbreak, as reported by AP.

Earlier this month, AP published an investigation documenting that senior WHO management was informed of multiple sex abuse allegations involving at least two of its doctors during the epidemic in 2018. In one instance, a doctor with WHO was accused by multiple women of offering jobs to women in exchange for sex.

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Days later, diplomats and donors pressed WHO to take more substantive action against the reported sex abuse. The U.N. health agency has repeatedly declined to comment on the specific allegations reported by the AP, saying it’s waiting for the independent commission’s findings.

When generic complaints of sex abuse among humanitarian workers including WHO first surfaced last fall, WHO director-general Tedros said he was “outraged” and promised swift action. More than seven months after Tedros commissioned an independent panel to investigate the alleged abuse, no details have been publicly released.

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