The United Nations has launched an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and the exploitation of vulnerable women by members of its staff in Uganda’s drought-stricken northeastern Karamoja region.
The inquiry by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services that began early this month follows allegations by a whistleblower of sexual abuse and exploitation by a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) staffer against a female victim and a more general pattern of serious sexual misconduct by other UN staff working in the region.
The allegations center on the World Food Programme (WFP) compound in the town of Moroto and involve UN staff demanding sex from local women in exchange for food, and the hiring of sex workers who are brought onto the UN base, as narrated by several UN personnel.
The staff of several UN agencies stays in the WFP compound, which provides office space and sleeping quarters in a region where more than 500,000 people are facing food shortages.
WFP’s regional spokesperson, Amanda Lawrence Brown in a statement following the accusations in Moroto said that they are aware of the allegations, and investigations are currently being conducted.
“There is no place for any form of sexual harassment, exploitation, or abuse at the World Food Programme, including by non-WFP staff residing at compounds managed by WFP in the field,” she said.
Lawrence-Brown noted that for security reasons she could not divulge how many UN staff stay at the base, but said WFP is also investigating any breaches of security protocols. Private guards at the compound are supposed to vet all visitors to the base, she added.
In response to the allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by staff in Moroto, Rosa Malango, the UN’s resident coordinator in Uganda, sent an email to all UN heads of agencies earlier this month stating.
“I look forward to the updates from UN heads on action taken so far including the immediate suspension of staff pending the conclusions of investigations,” Malango said in her email.
Malango emphasised that the UN has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and abuse, and said the “concerned agencies are dealing with the issue”.
Karamoja was the centre of an earlier UN scandal in 2019 with at least four people dying and nearly 300 others becoming unwell after eating WFP fortified cereal. The agency was accused of negligence.
Semi-arid Karamoja, on the border with Kenya, is Uganda’s least-developed region, where one in three children are stunted as a result of poor nutrition.
Source: The New Humanitarian