‘Abuse vic­tims sent back to war zones’ in Ox­fam cover-up

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Gabriella Sw­er­ling So­cial af­fairs Edi­tor

OX­FAM abuse vic­tims were sent back to war zones after rais­ing com­plaints against aid work­ers, it was claimed in an of­fi­cial re­port ex­pos­ing the scale of the scan­dal that en­gulfed the char­ity.

The re­port, by the Char­ity Com­mis­sion, ac­cuses Ox­fam of un­der­play­ing the scale of al­le­ga­tions made by vic­tims in Haiti and the UK in an at­tempt to pro­tect the char­ity’s rep­u­ta­tion and keep do­na­tions com­ing in.

It found that the char­ity failed to re­spond ad­e­quately to al­le­ga­tions that aid work­ers in Haiti were sex­u­ally abus­ing women whom they were sup­posed to be help­ing. It also found that 16 child volunteers in UK high street stores had com­plained of be­ing vic­tims of abuse.

How­ever the re­port found that Ox­fam “tol­er­ated poor be­hav­iour”.

The Char­ity Com­mis­sion, which has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ox­fam since last year, con­cluded that the char­ity’s ap­proach to the al­le­ga­tions was marked “by a de­sire to pro­tect its rep­u­ta­tion and donor re­la­tion­ships”.

One al­le­ga­tion in the re­port, pub­lished yes­ter­day, said: “Ben­e­fi­cia­ries who raised com­plaints against Ox­fam GB and UN staff were re­moved from camps and repa­tri­ated back to con­flict zones by staff who wanted to pro­tect their col­leagues.”

The re­port came a year after al­le­ga­tions emerged that Ox­fam aid work­ers had used pros­ti­tutes in Haiti fol­low­ing the 2010 earth­quake. The claims re­sulted in more than 7,000 peo­ple can­celling their do­na­tions, forc­ing Ox­fam to make £16mil­lion of cuts to aid projects.

Ox­fam held its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions by a whistle­blower in 2011, re­sult­ing in four peo­ple be­ing sacked and three oth­ers, in­clud­ing Roland van Hauw­er­meiren, its for­mer direc­tor in Haiti, be­ing al­lowed to re­sign.

The Char­ity Com­mis­sion re­port, which con­cluded that Ox­fam put vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren at risk by not in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault by aid work­ers, came after an 18-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a six-month de­lay.

Last night, the Na­tional Crime Agency con­firmed it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing a case re­lat­ing to two Haitian girls, aged 12 and 13, who claimed that they were “beaten and used” by an Ox­fam “boss”.

Their emails were seen by Dame Bar­bara Stock­ing, the char­ity’s CEO at the time, and the char­ity con­cluded that the claims were “fake”. How­ever the re­port con­demned the char­ity,

say­ing it did not take their al­le­ga­tions “se­ri­ously enough”, that it “should not have taken the risk with the safety of mi­nors” and should have re­ported the al­le­ga­tions to po­lice.

Re­gard­ing al­le­ga­tions that war refugees were “repa­tri­ated” if they raised con­cerns or re­ported staff had abused them, Stephen Twigg, Labour MP and chair­man of the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, said: “This al­le­ga­tion is ex­tremely se­ri­ous and mer­its fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion. There is a clear need to change the cul­ture away from main­tain­ing rep­u­ta­tions of or­gan­i­sa­tions. Staff need to have con­fi­dence that they will be pro­tected and be­lieved.”

This comes as a sep­a­rate Ox­fam-com­mis­sioned In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion on Sex­ual Mis­con­duct, Ac­count­abil­ity and Cul­ture con­ducted a global au­dit of the char­ity and con­cluded that it is blighted by “toxic work­ing en­vi­ron­ments”, “colo­nial be­hav­iour”, and sex­ism.

In re­sponse, Caroline Thom­son, chair­man of trustees at Ox­fam GB, said that the char­ity is “deeply sorry” for its fail­ure to pre­vent sex­ual abuse by its for­mer staff in Haiti. “It was a ter­ri­ble abuse of power, and an af­front to the val­ues that Ox­fam holds dear,” she said.

She added that Ox­fam has be­gun to im­ple­ment the re­view’s 79 rec­om­men­da­tions and ac­cepted that its re­sponse to safe­guard­ing should have been im­proved “fur­ther and faster” after Haiti, and added that the “very un­com­fort­able” find­ings from the in­quiry will be used to “spur to greater im­prove­ment”.

Re­gard­ing the claim that vic­tims were “repa­tri­ated”, a spokesman said more de­tails have been re­quested.

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