Oxfam apologises to Haiti government over sex scandal

2018-02-20 14:10
An Oxfam store in London. (Nick Ansell, PA via AP, file)

An Oxfam store in London. (Nick Ansell, PA via AP, file)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Port-au-Prince - Oxfam formally apologised to Haiti on Monday over the prostitution scandal rocking the aid charity, expressing its "shame" and vowing to do better as it handed over a damning internal report into the allegations.

Made public earlier in the day, Oxfam's 2011 report into the behaviour of aid workers sent to Haiti following a devastating earthquake revealed that a former top official admitted to paying for sex and that three staff physically threatened a witness.

"We came here to share the report with the minister and express our shame and apologies to the Haitian government and to the Haitian people," said Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam's regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"We've taken lots of measures to improve internal safeguarding measures," he said following a more than two-hour meeting with Haiti's minister of planning and external cooperation, Aviol Fleurant, who had summoned the charity to explain itself.

Oxfam's 2011 report, compiled in the year after aid workers were deployed to Haiti, revealed that seven staff were accused of using prostitutes at an Oxfam-funded residence.

Country director Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted paying for sex and was offered a "phased and dignified exit" if he cooperated with the inquiry.

READ: Ex-Oxfam Haiti director admits hiring sex workers

The Haitian government has expressed its outrage and launched its own inquiry.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise tweeted last week that there was "nothing more unworthy or dishonest than a sexual predator" taking advantage of a natural disaster "to exploit needy people in their moment of great vulnerability".

'Physical' threats

The report also said three Oxfam employees were involved in "physically threatening and intimidating" a witness who spoke to the investigators.

Four staff were fired for gross misconduct and three others, including van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to quit.

Details of the scandal surfaced earlier this month and have engulfed Oxfam, drawing widespread condemnation and putting its funding at risk.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the matter as "horrific", adding that "it was far below the standards that we expect for the charities and the NGOs that we're working with".

"We will not work with anybody who does not meet the high standards that we set," May added during a visit to a London school.

The charity has been suspended from bidding for new government funding until it undertakes reforms, and Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring has been called to explain the scandal to British MPs in London on Tuesday alongside officials from Save the Children.

That charity faces its own problems over claims that a staff member drunkenly harassed a female colleague.

Last week, Oxfam unveiled an action plan to tackle sexual harassment and abuse, including creating a new vetting system for staff, and has urged victims to come forward with any new allegations.

The aid group has denied trying to cover up the allegations but admitted it could have been more open at the time, saying it was publishing the report "in recognition of the breach of trust that has been caused".

'Loving relations'

All names in the report have been redacted apart from that of van Hauwermeiren, a 68-year-old Belgian who last week released a letter defending himself after the scandal broke.

In the letter, he claims he had not visited any brothels, nightclubs or bars in Haiti, despite offers from men and women "who tried to get into my house with all sorts of excuses to demand money, work, or to offer sexual services".

Van Hauwermeiren says he told Oxfam he had "intimate relations" three times at his house with "an honourable, mature woman, who was not an earthquake victim nor a prostitute. And I did not give her any money".

In an interview with The Times, however, a young Haitian mother claimed she had a relationship with van Hauwermeiren when she was just 16 - legally underage in Haiti.

Now 23, Mikelange Gabou said the Belgian initially helped her with supplies for her baby, and that they later had a "loving relationship" and he would sometimes give her money.

A woman who worked alongside van Hauwermeiren in Liberia said she made a complaint about him in 2004 - years before the Haiti scandal.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    oxfam  |  uk  |  haiti

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.