Revelations that the renowned emergency aid group, Oxfam International, failed to catch rogue aid workers who admitted to hiring prostitutes for wild sex parties in Haiti and Chad, have shaken the aid community worldwide.
According to a blistering new report in the Times of London, Oxfam knew of concerns about the conduct of two of the men caught up in the Haiti sex scandal before they were appointed to senior roles in the earthquake-hit country. Several of the aid officers, dismissed by Oxfam, found new jobs at other agencies.
In an internal report cited by The Times, agency staff allegedly organized “Caligula-style” orgies with girls dressed in Oxfam T-shirts. Some youngsters were suspected to have been under age, according to the report.
Country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, admitted to having sex with vulnerable prostitutes at his Oxfam-funded villa in Haiti until his resignation in 2011. From there, he went on to become the head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, a French aid agency, until 2014.
News of the abuse shook the Ugandan-born Winnie Byanyima, recently appointed Oxfam International’s executive director. She said she was “deeply, deeply hurt” by the reports but that it could not happen under systems and rules put in place since.
“What happened in Haiti was a few privileged men using the power they had from Oxfam to abuse powerless women. It breaks my heart,” Byanyima said in an interview with Reuters TV in New York.
Oxfam, one of Britain’s biggest aid groups, claimed it learned of the rogue behavior after a report in The UK Sunday Times which said aid workers paid for sex while under contract to help victims of the 2010 earthquake.
Oxfam neither confirmed nor denied The Times report but said its misconduct findings “related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct.”
Figures reported by The Sunday Times show Oxfam recorded 87 incidents last year, Save the Children 31 and Christian Aid two, while the British Red Cross admitted there had been a “small number of cases of harassment reported in the UK”.
Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre who now works for the agency Hear Their Cries, warned that “predatory pedophiles” were now targeting charities in order to “access children” in the developing world.
“Sex tourism laws make it unlawful for anybody to have sex with children under the age of 16 anywhere in the world or aid, abet or support that,” he said. “If we are going to wipe out this problem that’s been known about for 30 years, people need to go to jail.” w/pix of Roland van Hauwermeiren