The European Union has suspended funding for World Health Organization programs in the Congo following the publication of a report detailing alleged sexual misconduct by WHO workers in the country.
Reuters, which obtained a letter marked “SENSITIVE” from the European Commission addressed to the WHO, reports that the organization detailed the suspension of funding, wherein it “informed the WHO of the immediate suspension of financing for five WHO programmes, including its Ebola and COVID-19 operations.”
20.7 million euros, or $24 million, will be cut from the WHO’s activities in the Congo, and the European Commission is demanding greater accountability and for safeguards to be implemented.
In an email statement to Reuters in Brussels, the EC confirmed the action, and said it expects its partners to have “robust safeguards to prevent such unacceptable incidents as well as to act decisively in such situations.”
“The Commission has temporarily suspended the payments and will refrain from awarding new funding related to the humanitarian activities undertaken by WHO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This measure does not affect EU funding for WHO operations elsewhere,” it added.
Officials for the WHO did not immediately reply for comments. Despite the suspension of its financing to the WHO’s programs in the Congo, the EC will still give funding to the WHO’s programs and operations in other countries.
The WHO will have 30 days to respond to the European Commission, after which the EC will decide within 30 days whether or not to maintain the suspension.
The report, which sparked the action, implicated 21 WHO workers in alleged sexual misconduct during a mission to the region from 2018 to 2020.
In the report, roughly 88 workers, 21 who worked for the WHO, are implicated in a variety of sexual misconduct allegations, including rape and forced abortions. In one instance, a woman named in the report, Lisianne, recounted her experience of being impregnated by an expatriate doctor who worked for the WHO, who allegedly pressured her into having sex to keep her job. He reportedly gave her abortion pills when he found out she was pregnant.
“This is the biggest finding of sexual abuse perpetrated during a single U.N. initiative in one area or one country during the time-bound period of a U.N. response effort,” said Paula Donovan, the co-director of the Code Blue, a watchdog group dedicated to investigating allegations of sexual abuse by United Nations forces, the Associated Press reported.
The World Health Organization has redirected inquiries into the alleged sexual abuse cases to the United Nations in New York.
“This is a giant step backward. The WHO is treating dozens of violent crimes alleged against its own personnel and top officials as simple breaches of UN rules. If governments allow the UN to get away with this, it will be a solid victory for UN impunity,” she said.