|[Published: Tuesday June 11 2019]
Oxfam indicted for not reporting Haiti sex claims
LONDON 11 Jun (ANA) - There were “serious problems with the culture, morale and behaviour” of Oxfam staff in Haiti, according to a damning report, which has found that the charity failed to disclose allegations of child abuse.
The Charity Commission report surveyed 7,000 pieces of evidence related to allegations that Oxfam had covered up its investigation into staff paying for sex while working on the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
It is the most detailed report produced by the commission.
The Haiti scandal prompted resignations from Oxfam GB’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, and its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, and caused the charity to lose UK aid. In the immediate aftermath of the allegations, the charity lost thousands of donors.
The allegations also placed the aid sector under intense scrutiny, and prompted the UK government to host a safeguarding summit to improve accountability.
“What went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation. Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam’s internal culture tolerated poor behaviour, and at times lost sight of the values it stands for,” said Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, which set up an inquiry into the allegations last year.
The commission expressed concern over Oxfam’s internal investigation into the claims that staff in Haiti had paid for sex, and over its response to separate accusations relating to abuse of children in Haiti.
Two emails, dated July and August 2011 and said to be from a 13-year-old girl about herself and a 12-year-old girl, made allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving Oxfam staff. The email stated that the two minors had been paid for sex and had been “… beaten and used by two men who I know work for you …”
It was suspected by Oxfam at the time – but never proven – that the allegations were not genuine. However, the Charity Commission said the charity “should have tried harder to identify the source of the concerns and followed up the allegations”. Last year, the emails were referred to the National Crime Agency by Oxfam and the commission.
The commission issued Oxfam with an official warning, which will appear on the commission’s register, and issued the charity with directions to improve.
Caroline Thomson, Oxfam GB’s chair of trustees, said the commission’s findings into the organisation’s behaviour “are very uncomfortable”, adding:
“What happened in Haiti was shameful.”
The watchdog stopped short of accusing Oxfam of a coverup over the allegations, but said the charity should have been “fuller and franker” in its reports to donors and regulators. Its handling of the allegations “was influenced by a desire to protect Oxfam GB’s reputation, and to protect donor and stakeholder relationships”, the inquiry said.
An internal investigation into allegations that staff members paid for sex was launched by Oxfam in 2011. However, the commission expressed serious concerns about the experience of the investigators and the resources they were given.
During the charity’s internal investigation, information was leaked, compromising the safety and confidentiality of a witness, and leading to witness intimidation, the commission found.
In its reports to the regulator, Oxfam said categorically that misconduct did not involve beneficiaries. However, the commission concluded otherwise. It added that the charity should have done more to investigate whether children were among those involved.
Oxfam’s investigation concluded that four members of staff either did pay for sex or were suspected of doing so, including on charity premises. Three men, including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to resign, while four were sacked for gross misconduct.
The watchdog said it had found evidence to indicate that Oxfam “encouraged and facilitated” van Hauwermeiren’s resignation, warning that this suggested “more senior staff would be treated more leniently”.
The inquiry also examined Oxfam’s wider approach to safeguarding and concluded that the charity’s own commitments and promises in the past had not always been matched by its resources.
The commission instructed Oxfam trustees to submit an action plan to the regulator on how it would address concerns about its previous conduct, in an effort to “repair public trust and confidence” in the charity.(ANA)
FA/ANA/11 June 2019------