Oxfam workers ‘had sex parties’
One of Britain’s biggest charities has covered up the use of prostitutes by senior aid workers in earthquake-torn Haiti.
An investigation has found that Oxfam, which receives £300 million ($537m) a year in British government funds and public donations, allowed three men to resign and sacked four for gross misconduct after an inquiry into sexual exploitation, bullying, intimidation and the downloading of pornography.
A confidential report by the charity said there had been “a culture of impunity” among some staff in Haiti and concluded children may have been among those sexually exploited by aid workers. The 2011 report stated: “It cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were under-aged.”
Oxfam was part of a massive international relief effort in Haiti after the earthquake in Port-auPrince in 2010, which killed 220,000 people, injured 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless.
One of the men allowed to resign without disciplinary action was Oxfam’s country director there, Roland van Hauwermeiren. The report says Mr Van Hauwermeiren, 68, admitted using prostitutes at the villa rented for him by Oxfam with charitable funds.
Despite the admission, the charity’s chief executive at the time, Barbara Stocking, offered the Belgian “a phased and dignified exit” because sacking him would have “potentially serious implications” for the charity’s work and reputation.
After the internal inquiry, two other managers were able to resign and four were dismissed for gross misconduct, including the use of prostitutes at the apartment block where Oxfam housed them.
A number of sources said they had concerns that some of the prostitutes were under age. One said men had invited groups of young prostitutes to their guesthouse and held sex “parties”.
The source claimed to have seen footage from a night there that was “like a full-on Caligula orgy” with girls wearing Oxfam T-shirts.
Prostitution is illegal in Haiti and the age of consent is 18. Paying for sex is against Oxfam’s staff code of conduct and in breach of UN statements on the behaviour of aid workers, to which the charity subscribes.
Oxfam said it did not report any of the incidents to the Haitian authorities because “it was extremely unlikely that any action would be taken”. None of those accused was arrested or faced any criminal charges.
The charity said it disclosed the sexual misconduct to Britain’s Charity Commission but the regulator said it had never received the final investigation report and Oxfam “did not detail the precise allegations, nor did it make any indication of potential sexual crimes involving minors”.
The commission said it was asking Oxfam to review what had happened and “provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to ensure risks are minimised”.
An appendix to the investigation report raised a list of management concerns over the situation in Haiti and asked: “How far back and why did the culture of impunity in Haiti develop? Were there signals that could have been picked up earlier?”
The charity acknowledged that staff in Haiti had felt intimidated and unable to raise the alarm.
The charity said yesterday: “Oxfam treats any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously. As soon as we became aware of a range of allegations, including of sexual misconduct, in Haiti in 2011 we launched an internal investigation.
“The investigation was announced publicly and staff members were suspended pending the outcome.”
It said the allegations that under-age girls may have been involved were not proven.