By Nellie Peyton
Dakar – Britain’s charity watchdog said it has received reports of at least eight cases of sexual assault and abuse by aid workers in Democratic Republic of Congo, vowing to ensure “robust action”.
It said the incidents were reported both before and after an investigation published last month by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian in which more than 50 women accused Ebola aid workers of demanding sex in exchange for jobs.
“We can confirm that these include allegations of serious sexual assault, the exchange of jobs or money for sex and sexual harassment,” the Charity Commission’s senior technical adviser Harvey Grenville told British parliamentarians on Tuesday.
He did not say which organisations were implicated in the abuse, whether it occurred during the 2018-2020 Ebola crisis or how it received the reports. Two of the accused were Congolese nationals and the remainder were foreigners, he said.
Women interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian identified abusers who said they worked for the World Health Organization, the UN migration agency (IOM), the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), Congo’s health ministry, Oxfam, World Vision, Medecins Sans Frontieres and ALIMA.
Five of those organisations and the Congolese government have launched investigations on the back of the report.
The parliamentary hearing was part of an ongoing inquiry into sexual abuse in the aid sector, launched in July by parliament’s International Development Committee to assess progress made in the last two years and recommend next steps.
The inquiry began work in 2018 after reports emerged that former staff of Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, paid for sex in Haiti while on a mission to help those affected by a 2010 earthquake, prompting the government to suspend funding.
Grenville said the commission was engaging individually with the charities to make sure they took the allegations seriously, and it would take “robust action” if it was not satisfied.
The commission regulates charities in England and Wales and can remove their registration if they fail to comply with its requirements.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said on Wednesday that the eight incidents Grenville referred to were a sample of recent cases and not the total number of reports received by the watchdog regarding sexual exploitation and abuse in Congo.
Grenville said that the cases he highlighted showed the challenges of holding abusers to account, with one sexual assault survivor saying she lacked confidence in Congo’s law enforcement and justice system to take the case forwards.
Also speaking at the hearing, representatives from UNICEF and the UN refugee agency UNHCR said they needed to do more to prevent abuse in the aid sector following the Congo expose, in which women said they were afraid to report or did not know how. “We believe that changes have to be made on the complaints mechanism, the reporting mechanism,” Hannan Sulieman, UNICEF’s Assistant Secretary-General, told the hearing.
Thomson Reuters Foundation