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More victims complain of sexual abuse in Congo scandal – WHO expert

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October 27, 2021

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – More women have reported sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers during an Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo since a report into the scandal was issued last month, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official told Reuters.

Some 83 aid workers, a quarter of them employed by the WHO, were involved in sexual coercion and abuse during the country’s 10th Ebola epidemic, an independent commission said last month.

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Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, WHO acting director of prevention and response to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, highlighted concerns about the scale of abuse as the WHO seeks to implement reforms and restore trust in the UN agency.

The report cited nine allegations of rape, the youngest victim a 14-year-old girl who accused a WHO driver of offering her a ride and raping her. She later gave birth.

Gamhewage said that more people had come forward alleging abuses by aid workers at the time. She could not provide a figure as she did not have access to the complaints due to confidentiality issues.

“The more work we do, the more cases that will come to light. So already we are hearing from partners, they are also receiving more complaints,” Gamhewage said in an interview.

“This is a sign that the systems that we would like to have in place are beginning to work. We have heard through the inter-agency network that there are more complaints in Goma.”

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The scandal had been a wake-up call for the aid community.

“The independent commission’s report and the testimonies of victims and survivors are a message to all agencies, not just WHO, that something is wrong with the system,” she said. “We are all shaken, we are all upset.”

She also reiterated that the WHO was referring the rape allegations to national authorities for investigation.

SCANDAL AND SUFFERING

Sexual abuse is generally believed to be under-reported in emergency operations worldwide, according to Gamhewage, a Sri Lankan doctor and WHO veteran.

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The independent probe was prompted by an investigation last year by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian in which more than 50 women accused aid workers from the WHO and other charities of demanding sex in exchange for jobs between 2018 and 2020.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took a

“radically different approach” in the UN by launching the independent probe, Gamhewage said. WHO has already terminated the contracts of four employees identified as perpetrators.

Tedros issued a management response plan last week, vowing to ensure that the scandal and the suffering would be “the catalyst for a profound transformation of WHO’s culture”.

The WHO has also said it would investigate potential negligence by managers that may amount to misconduct.

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Because the commission only had a mandate to investigate abuse by WHO employees or contractors, the WHO is preparing to send all 83 case files to UN investigators for action, Gamhewage said.

“We will hand over all 83 case files to the UN investigation services because there could be alleged perpetrators that work for other UN agencies,” she said.

These included 62 case files “not identified currently with WHO and we have to make sure that perpetrators wherever they are are disciplined”, she said.

Suspects’ names were being uploaded in the UN ‘ClearCheck’ data base, a system-wide tool that screens potential employees, Gamhewage said.

“This is so serious that we want to prevent rehiring back into our system as well as other UN other agencies,” she said.

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(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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