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5th Aug 2021

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EU has 26 documents on alleged NGO sex abuse in DRC

  • Aid agencies operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo fighting Ebola have been accused of sex abuse (Photo: worldbank.org)

The European Commission has collected more than two dozen confidential documents of alleged sexual abuse by EU-funded aid agencies, EUobserver can reveal.

The documents, including emails, link back to allegations during the Ebola emergency response in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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The commission had late last year requested its "relevant partners" provide detailed information of the allegations. The total of 26 dates to 12 February.

EUobserver has since asked for a copy of the 26 documents (including emails and documents attached to the emails) identified by the commission, but was denied access.

In a letter, Paraskevi Michou, a director-general for EU civil protection and humanitarian aid, laid out the reasons.

She said the withheld emails and reports contain information about the NGOs, including details of their actions.

Any such disclosure "would have a strong negative reputational effect on the partners with possible financial consequences."

She also cited the EU's data protection regulation as a reason given the need to protect people's privacy and argued disclosure would complicate its own internal probe.

"Any organisation receiving EU funds for humanitarian aid has a duty to abide by the highest ethical and professional standards in the areas of humanitarian assistance," she added.

The commission may request any information from the agencies deemed necessary to asses prevention measures, a precautionary move following the 2018 Oxfam sex scandal in Haiti.

Those that fail to have those measures in place may lead to termination of agreements, suspension of payments, and reduction of the EU financial contributions.

A year long joint investigation by Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian last September revealed the extent of the alleged abuse in the war-torn central African country.

They collected testimonies from over 50 women, backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers, of sexual exploitation.

Among those accused were Ebola aid workers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and leading NGOs.

The prospect for a job was often used as a pretext for sex, they said.

Most blamed the WHO.

But others also pointed the finger at the Alima medical charity, International Organization for Migration, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Unicef and World Vision.

Some of those aid agencies are part financed by the European Union.

The women said the men came from Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada, Côte d'Ivoire, France, and Guinea.

The reported abuse took place during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola outbreak.

Another outbreak has since erupted earlier this month in and around the same areas where the reported abuse took place.

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