Oxfam International boss ‘broken-hearted’ by sexual misconduct scandal’

A handout picture provided on 9 October 2016 by Oxfam International shows members of a emergencies team of Oxfam delivering hygiene kits to prevent the spread of Cholera and other diseases in the town of Camp Perrin, department Sud, Haiti, one of the most affected by hurricane Matthew. [Handout photo/EPA]

The executive director of Oxfam International said yesterday (11 February) she was heartbroken by a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti involving aid workers that has prompted Britain’s government to threaten to cut off aid funding to charities.

Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest charities, has condemned the behavior of some former staff in Haiti after a newspaper report said aid workers paid for sex while on a mission to help those affected by the 2010 earthquake.

Five years after the earthquake, poverty and political uncertainty reign in Haiti

Five years after the catastrophic earthquake which ravaged Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 people and leaving 1.5 million homeless, despite a massive international humanitarian and cooperation effort, the country remains the poorest of the Western hemisphere, and is prey to political instability.

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”.

Winnie Byanyima, who became executive director of Oxfam International in 2013, said she was saddened by what took place in 2010 and that it could not happen under systems and rules put in place since.

“I feel deeply, deeply hurt. … What happened in Haiti was a few privileged men abusing the very people they were supposed to protect – 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 want to restore trust. We want to build that trust. We are committing to be honest, to be transparent and to be accountable in addressing this issue of sexual misconduct. We are in a different place today,” she said.

British Aid Minister Penny Mordaunt said on Sunday that she would write to British charities that work overseas demanding they declare any problems relating to the duty they have to protect their staff and the people they work with from harm and abuse – so-called safeguarding.

Byanyima said charities must stop people who do not share their values from joining their organisations.

“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.

She said Oxfam would share with the relevant authorities all the information it had relating to the 2010 incident.

“You know it’s not within our power to return people who are not our staff to Haiti to face prosecution,” she said. “But we will avail everything that we know from the investigation to whoever authority, whichever authority wants to have this.”

Positions

Following the publication of this article the EU ordered Oxfam to explain itself over a 2011 prostitution scandal in Haiti, warning charities that the bloc would cut their funding if they breached ethical standards.

The European Union, a major international aid donor which provided Oxfam with more than 25 million euros in funding in 2017, said today (12 February) it took a "zero tolerance" approach to misconduct by NGO partners.

"We expect Oxfam to fully clarify the allegations with maximum transparency as a matter of urgency, and we're ready to review and, if needed, cease funding to any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical standards," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters.

The EU provided Oxfam with €1.7 million in funding for work in Haiti in 2011, she said.

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