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A Haitian woman surrounded by debris of a house destroyed by the January 2010 REUTERS

Oxfam denies covering up senior aid workers’ use of prostitutes in Haiti

WT24 Desk

Oxfam, has denied claims of a cover up, after it emerged senior aid workers regularly used prostitutes during their time in Haiti following the 2011 earthquake.

Three members of staff were allowed to resign from the charity and four others were dismissed after an investigation unearthed sexual misconduct, bullying and intimidation while it was providing disaster relief services in the Caribbean country, The Times reported.

A whistle-blower alleged that the men had conducted “sex parties” at the residence rented for them by the charity.

One party was “like a full on Caligula orgy”, with girls dressed in Oxfam T-shirts, the paper quoted a source as saying.

It was also alleged that some of those aware of the misconduct had concerns the prostitutes may have been underage, although an Oxfam spokesperson said that these allegations were not proven.

Oxfam launched an investigation into the allegations, which included sexual exploitation and the downloading of pornography.

A subsequent report noted a “culture of impunity” that meant other staff members did not feel they could speak up about inappropriate behaviour.

The charity has been accused of a cover-up after it emerged the most senior staff member involved was allowed to resign before the conclusion of the internal investigation.

Country Director Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted using prostitutes during his time in Haiti in 2011, the report stated.

He was allowed to tender his resignation due to his cooperation, the charity said.

Oxfam did not report the allegations to authorities in Haiti, saying they had received legal advice that it was extremely unlikely reporting would lead to any action being taken.

The charity, which receives £300m a year in donations and government funding, has denied claims it tried to cover up the behaviour, which took place in 2011.

“The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” a spokesperson said.

“Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.”

They added: “After the investigation, we carried out a thorough review of the case which resulted in the creation of our dedicated Safeguarding Team and a confidential ‘whistleblowing’ hotline as part of a package of measures to ensure that we do all we can to protect our staff, prevent sexual abuse and misconduct happening in the first place and improve how we handle any allegations.”

None of the accused have been arrested or charged with any wrongdoing.

A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said Oxfam had shown them the report but that it did not detail precise allegations, or make any indication of potential sexual crimes involving minors.

“At the time, and based on the information provided, we were satisfied that the trustees were handling matters appropriately and did not have regulatory concerns,” the regulator said. “The Commission did not see a final copy of the report.”

They added: “We are currently engaged with the charity regarding its approach to safeguarding following more recent allegations. As part of that, we have already asked the charity to review historic safeguarding allegations and its response to them at the time. We expect the charity to include in their review incidents that occurred in 2011. We will expect the charity to provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to safeguard all who come into contact with it.”

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