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Joint Statement on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment
WHO Executive Board 152nd Session
February 1, 2023

Joint Statement on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment
As delivered by the United Kingdom on behalf of 58 Member States

WHO Executive Board 152nd Session

January 31,  2023

Thank you very much Madam Chair. Thank you Director General for your presentation on this issue.

I have the honour to deliver the following statement on behalf of a rather large group of countries and I hope you will bear with me as I mention them all. They are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Eswatini, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Rwanda, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, The Netherlands, Ukraine, Uruguay, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom.

Madam Chair, since January 2018, I think we have all been raising deep concerns about allegations relating to matters of sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as the abuse of authority by WHO staff and contractors.

We recognise the significant progress made by the WHO particularly, particularly as we transition from the Management Response Plan to implementation of the forthcoming three-year strategy for the “prevention and response to sexual misconduct” with its associated monitoring and accountability framework, which you have set out this afternoon.

As we focus on the task ahead, recognising the strides the WHO has made in recent years, the organisation also has to reflect on the challenges we need to address, the risks we must manage, and the lessons we must learn. We praise the bravery of survivors and whistle-blowers in coming forward, and all those who have supported investigations. To that end, we will engage with the WHO in due course on the findings of the UN OIOS investigation report, related to the 10th Ebola outbreak in DRC, which the DG just mentioned in his presentation.

We welcome the IEOAC Sub-Committee’s report and agree that the investigations function for dealing with misconduct must be stabilized. Dedicated, sustainable funding, and attracting staff with the right skillset and capability for this work, will be critical.

Shifting to a victim and survivor centred approach

Madam Chair, a victim and survivor centred approach must be at the core of the WHO’s work.

We welcome progress that the WHO has made on this front through reform of policies and systems. Meaningful community engagement, tailored to context, is critical to ensuring that victims and survivors are protected. Their rights, their privacy, their needs and their wishes should be prioritised, including in the investigative process, and also through strengthening community-based-reporting mechanisms and structures. Victims and survivors must be provided with appropriate support, including psychosocial support.

Strengthening capacity and ensuring accountability

Building a culture based on integrity, transparency and accountability is crucial for empowering staff and beneficiaries to come forward. We encourage the WHO management to set the tone and lead by example in these areas, particularly by establishing clear responsibility and accountability lines.

We strongly support the WHO’s investment in capacity-building and training for staff. This work should build awareness of the power differentials and inequalities between victims and perpetrators that lie at the root of SEAH.

Complaints must be addressed in a timely manner, and perpetrators held to account, so we strongly support efforts to strengthen the WHO’s investigative capacity. We expect prompt and confidential reporting to be provided to Member States, including on the actions taken to address SEAH. Confidentiality and safeguards against the leaking of private information must also be ensured.

Safeguarding in high-risk settings

Madam Chair, we appreciate the WHO’s efforts to embed robust SEAH safeguards in its operations, especially in high-risk settings through the rapid deployment of PRSEAH experts to mitigate the risks. The WHO should continue to prioritise PRSEAH inter-agency coordination, particularly around the design and operation of complaints mechanisms, and the response to reports.

The way forward

Madam Chair, we commend the hard work of all at the WHO driving progress on PRSEAH and we will continue working closely with you, to ensure that credible outcomes and that the highest standards prevail.

Thank you very much.