By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – Revelations that the renowned emergency aid group, Oxfam International, failed to catch rogue aid workers who hired prostitutes for sex orgies in Haiti and Chad, have shaken the aid community in the UK and the U.S.
According to a blistering new expose in The Times of London, Oxfam knew of concerns about the conduct of two of the men caught up in the Haiti sex scandal before they were appointed to senior humanitarian roles in the earthquake-hit country. Several of the aid officers, dismissed by Oxfam, found new jobs at other agencies.
Deputy Chief Executive Penny Lawrence, who just announced her resignation, said Oxfam had become aware over the past few days that concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that the organization failed to adequately act upon.
“It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.
“As program director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility,” she said.
Oxfam staffer Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, admitted to having sex with vulnerable prostitutes at his Oxfam-funded villa in Haiti until his resignation in 2011. From there, he went on to become the head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, a French aid agency, until 2014.
News of the abuse shook the Ugandan-born Winnie Byanyima, who became executive director of Oxfam International in 2013. She said she was “deeply, deeply hurt” by the reports but that it could not happen under systems and rules put in place since. (Watch video)
“What happened in Haiti was a few privileged men using the power they had from Oxfam to abuse powerless women. It breaks my heart,” Byanyima said in an interview with Reuters TV in New York.
“We need to do more in terms of investigations and sharing the results of those investigations so that offenders don’t go on to offend in other organizations,” she said.
Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest aid groups which in its last financial year received $44 million from Britain’s aid ministry, about 8 percent of its overall income, claimed it learned of the rogue behaviour after a report in The UK Sunday Times which said aid workers paid for sex while under contract to help victims of the 2010 earthquake.
Oxfam neither confirmed nor denied The Times report but said its misconduct findings “related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct.”
Figures reported by The Sunday Times show Oxfam recorded 87 incidents in 2017, Save the Children 31 and Christian Aid two, while the British Red Cross admitted there had been a “small number of cases of harassment reported in the UK”.
Britain’s aid minister said the government would cut aid funding from any charity that did not comply with a new review into their work overseas, calling reports of sexual exploitation in the sector “utterly despicable.”
Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre who now works for the agency Hear Their Cries, warned that “predatory paedophiles” were now targeting charities in order to “access children” in the developing world.
“Sex tourism laws make it unlawful for anybody to have sex with children under the age of 16 anywhere in the world or aid, abet or support that,” he said. “If we are going to wipe out this problem that’s been known about for 30 years, people need to go to jail.”
Meanwhile, on February 10 the British Charity Commission revealed it receives as many as 1,000 reports a year related to safeguarding and sexual abuse in the aid sector, its director of investigations has revealed. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 February 2018]
Image: Snapshot of Oxfam International’s Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, addressing the reports of exploitation and abuse in Oxfam’s humanitarian responses. Watch video
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