Ox­fam faces fresh sex abuse claims

Aid scan­dal ex­tends to South Su­dan

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

LON­DON: Scan­dal-hit British char­ity Ox­fam was reel­ing on Tues­day af­ter fresh claims of sex­ual as­sault and cover-up in South Su­dan, as Haiti’s pres­i­dent con­demned the be­hav­iour of some of its staff in his coun­try as “undig­ni­fied and dis­hon­est”.

The lat­est rev­e­la­tions by He­len Evans, for­mer global head of safe­guard­ing, heaped pres­sure on chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Goldring just hours af­ter his deputy re­signed over a scan­dal in­volv­ing aid work­ers’ use of pros­ti­tutes in Haiti and Chad.

Ms Evans ac­cused se­nior man­agers of fail­ing to act and also warned of as­saults on chil­dren vol­un­teer­ing in Ox­fam’s hun­dreds of char­ity shops in Bri­tain.

The char­ity group’s name took an­other hit on Tues­day when Ox­fam In­ter­na­tional’s chair­man Juan Al­berto Fuentes Knight was ar­rested in his na­tive Gu­atemala over gov­ern­ment graft al­le­ga­tions un­re­lated to the sex­ual as­sault claims.

A spokesman for Ox­fam In­ter­na­tional — the um­brella group for 20 na­tional and re­gional af­fil­i­ates — said Mr Fuentes “main­tains his in­no­cence” and is co­op­er­at­ing “fully with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion”.

The sex scan­dal was slammed on Tues­day by Haitian Pres­i­dent Jovenel Moisem who said on Twit­ter that there was “noth­ing more undig­ni­fied and dis­hon­est” than hu­man­i­tar­ian aid work­ers ex­ploit­ing “needy peo­ple”.

Min­is­ter of Plan­ning and Ex­ter­nal Co­op­er­a­tion Aviol Fleu­rant con­demned “se­ri­ous sex­ual crimes” car­ried out by staff mem­bers and said they had used money des­tined for vic­tims of a dev­as­tat­ing 2010 earth­quake.

Ox­fam has been bat­tling ac­cu­sa­tions it cov­ered up al­le­ga­tions about the use of pros­ti­tutes by staff mem­bers in Haiti and ad­mit­ted it could have been more trans­par­ent with reg­u­la­tors.

Fol­low­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, some staff mem­bers were dis­missed and oth­ers in­clud­ing coun­try di­rec­tor Roland van Hauw­er­meiren were al­lowed to re­sign.

The Times news­pa­per, which broke the story, re­ported a fel­low aid worker made a com­plaint about Mr van Hauw­er­meiren over his al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct back in 2004 while work­ing for the char­ity Mer­lin in Liberia.

Ms Evans told Chan­nel 4 News of a sur­vey con­ducted dur­ing her 2012-2015 ten­ure which ex­posed a “cul­ture of sex­ual abuse” in some Ox­fam of­fices.

The sur­vey of 120 staff across three coun­tries found be­tween 11% and 14% said they wit­nessed or ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual as­sault.

Seven per­cent of staff in South Su­dan — four peo­ple — wit­nessed or ex­pe­ri­enced rape or at­tempted rape in­volv­ing col­leagues.

The rev­e­la­tions have caused out­rage in Bri­tain, where Ox­fam re­ceived £31.7 mil­lion (1.3 bil­lion baht) from the gov­ern­ment last year.

The char­ity’s deputy chief Penny Lawrence re­signed on Mon­day, say­ing: “As pro­gramme di­rec­tor at the time, I am ashamed that this hap­pened on my watch and I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Ac­tress Min­nie Driver be­came the first Ox­fam am­bas­sador to step down from the role late on Tues­day.

“Dev­as­tated for the women who were used by peo­ple sent there to help them, dev­as­tated by the re­sponse of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that I have been rais­ing aware­ness for since I was nine years old,” she wrote on Twit­ter.

Bri­tain’s in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment min­istry has be­gun a wider re­view of how the for­eign aid sec­tor deals with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct in the work­place.

“Emer­gency sit­u­a­tions are al­most a per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for th­ese kind of ac­tiv­i­ties to emerge,” Mike Jennings, head of the Depart­ment of De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Lon­don’s School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies, said.

“You have ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple … and a few peo­ple who are ef­fec­tively con­trol­ling ac­cess to re­sources, or have huge amounts of power,” he said.

Me­gan Nobert, who was drugged and raped by a fel­low aid worker in South Su­dan in 2015, told BBC ra­dio that sex­ual vi­o­lence in hu­man­i­tar­ian workspaces was a “com­mon oc­cur­rence”.

She drew par­al­lels with the #MeToo cam­paign of de­nounc­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“The hu­man­i­tar­ian com­mu­nity is the lat­est to have to grap­ple pub­licly with an is­sue that it’s been try­ing to fig­ure out how to re­spond to qui­etly,” Ms Nobert said.

AP

Chil­dren play in empty card­board boxes dur­ing food dis­tri­bu­tion by Ox­fam out­side Akobo town, one of the last rebel-held strongholds in South Su­dan.

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