GENEVA (23 May 2022) – As the World Health Assembly, the main decision-making body of the World Health Organization, meets for its 75th Session in Geneva, Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, calls on States and the WHO to step up efforts to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the UN agency’s operations and activities. She issues the following statement:
“In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, I expressed concern regarding WHO’s inadequate response to multiple allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed during the 10th Ebola response in North Kivu and Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), between August 2018 and June 2020.
Together with other experts, I expressed particular concern that WHO’s response to these serious allegations may have prevented a fair and thorough investigation of possible crimes of sexual exploitation and abuse allegedly committed within the jurisdiction of the DRC by individuals affiliated with WHO. We expressed particular concern that WHO's response to these serious allegations may have prevented a fair and thorough investigation of possible crimes of sexual exploitation and abuse reportedly committed within the jurisdiction of the DRC by individuals affiliated with WHO.”
The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women welcomes the response to the letter received on the 21st of May 2022 which clarifies the issues raised in the experts’ letter. Together with WHO’s management report of 25 April 2022, the letter describes the overall efforts made by WHO and the wider UN system to address systematic shortcomings and failures relating to the prevention and response to acts of gender-based violence. Noting that such failures appear to have permeated the organization’s structures, decision-making, and its operational response, I encourage the World Health Assembly and the Member States comprising the Executive Board of the WHO to rigorously monitor the progress made by WHO and others in implementing the commitments made to date. I also call on the UN and Member States to continue to work towards establishing a framework for reparations and to step up support, including through reparations, to activities aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence and strengthening child protection in its operations around the globe, noting that such services and activities are chronically underfunded.
A full version of the statement is available here.
Ms. Reem Alsalem (Jordan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2021, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. She is an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response. She holds a Masters in International Relations from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2001) and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2003).
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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