Oxfam ignored warnings about sexual abuse in Haiti

Skynews-haiti-earthquake-2010 4236057

Scathing report warns: this can't happen again anywhere in the sector 

11th June 2019 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Oxfam did not act despite knowing its workers were engaged in sexual exploitation of earthquake survivors in Haiti.   

A highly critical report by the Charity Commission reveals that emails sent to Oxfam’s headquarters detailed instances of aid workers having sex with those they were meant to be helping, which included underage boys and girls.

However the charity dismissed these as malicious and did not act upon the information.  

Only after, in July 2011, did Oxfam’s leadership take action in the form of an internal investigation. This followed a number of whistleblowers coming forward with fresh claims of sexual exploitation.

It led to disciplinary action, dismissals and resignations.

As a result of the report the commission has warned: “No charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues, and that all are judged on their actions, not their words.”

The commission said the charity had a culture of tolerating poor behaviour and questioned why the country director in Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, was allowed a dignified exit, enabling him to take up post with another NGO despite admitting paying women for sex at his Oxfam-funded villa.

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the commission, said: “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. 

She added that the commission’s findings highlight the importance of matching good intentions with resources. 

“The charity’s new leadership has acknowledged past mistakes and committed publicly to learning the lessons,” she said. 

“But significant further cultural and system change is required to address the failings and weaknesses our report identifies.”

Claims first emerged last year that employees, including Van Hauwermeiren, used young prostitutes while based in Haiti after the earthquake.

It was reported that Oxfam was aware of concerns about the conduct of Van Hauwermeiren and another man when they worked in Chad before they were given senior roles in Haiti.

Ultimately being a charity is more than just about what you do - Baroness Stowell

As such, some of the charity’s failings and shortcomings amount to mismanagement, the commission said, as has used its powers to issue the charity with official warning under Section 84 of the Charities Act 2011.

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, added: “Ultimately being a charity is more than just about what you do, it is also about the way in which you do it.

“The Charity Commission is determined to reassure the public that it understands this fundamental point and will work with the sector it regulates to demonstrate that fact in the months and years ahead.”

Oxfam published a statement saying it accepted the report’s findings.   

Caroline Thomson, chair of Oxfam GB trustees, said: “These are very uncomfortable findings for Oxfam Great Britain. But we accept them.

“What happened in Haiti was shameful and we are deeply sorry. It was a terrible abuse of power that goes against everything we stand for. I want to again apologise to all those who personally suffered. To the people of Haiti, and to our donors and supporters here at home. We let you down.

“After the events in Haiti, we made improvements to our safeguarding - but we accept that should have gone further faster. We are already acting on the recommendations of an independent review which informed the Commission's work - including by looking again at a number of past safeguarding cases.”