Connect with us

World

Exclusive: EU suspends funding to WHO programmes in Congo after sex scandal

Published

on

October 28, 2021

By Stephanie Nebehay and Francesco Guarascio

GENEVA (Reuters) – The European Commission has suspended funding to the World Health Organization’s programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to concerns over the U.N. agency’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal.

An Oct. 7 letter from the Commission marked “SENSITIVE”, seen by Reuters, informed the WHO of the immediate suspension of financing for five WHO programmes, including its Ebola and COVID-19 operations.

Advertisement

The total amount is more than 20.7 million euros ($24.02 million).

The Commission, in an emailed statement to Reuters in Brussels, confirmed the move, saying that it expected 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 said.

WHO officials contacted separately for comment did not immediately reply.

The EU funding suspension raises diplomatic pressure on the WHO and its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to take further action on the documented violations and management negligence, and to prevent it from happening again anywhere.

Advertisement

Tedros, widely believed to be seeking a second five-year term in May, has steered the global response to COVID-19, the worst public health crisis in a century. But major donors led by the United States and Germany have demanded fundamental reforms to its ability to deal with outbreaks and the scandal.

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

A copy of the EU letter was sent to the Code Blue Campaign, part of the Aids-free World, a watchdog group that aims to end impunity for sexual offences committed by U.N. civilian and military personnel.

The European Commission’s letter, addressed to Tedros, voices “extreme concern” over the “magnitude of the findings”.

It seeks assurances that victims have been protected and compensated; details of WHO’s recruitment process in Congo including background checks; WHO action to ensure alleged perpetrators are not re-hired by the UN or aid groups; and an independent review of “individual responsibilities within WHO for the negligence in the treatment of allegations and evidence”.

Advertisement

“In view of the gravity of the reported situation, the Commission hereby suspends all payments relevant to the activities undertaken by your organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” it reads.

The Commission seeks a WHO reply within 30 days and says that Brussels will then take another 30 days to decide whether to resume payments or confirm suspension for up to another 30 days. In the meantime, no new funding will be awarded to the WHO for activities in Congo, it adds.

“VIOLENT CRIMES”

The WHO last week issued its plan to prevent any further misconduct by aid workers deployed in its field operations, vowing to ensure the scandal would be “the catalyst for a profound transformation of WHO’s culture”.

Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, WHO acting director of prevention and response to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, told Reuters in an interview this week that more women have reported sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers during the Ebola crisis from 2018-2020.

Advertisement

She reiterated that the WHO was referring the rape allegations to national authorities for investigation and said that WHO was sending all 83 case files to U.N. investigators in New York for action regarding employees of all agencies.

Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign, said in a statement this month after the WHO’s management response plan was issued that the agency was failing to pursue most perpetrators.

“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.

“The entire process reinforces the bogus notion that UN personnel and senior officials are above the law,” she said.

($1 = 0.8617 euros)

Advertisement

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; editing by Nick Macfie)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

World

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

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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)

Advertisement
Continue Reading

World

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

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

“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)

Advertisement

Continue Reading

World

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

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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)

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Trending