Oxfam sex scandal: Internal report reveals 'witness intimidation'

Oxfam sex scandal: Internal report reveals 'witness intimidation'
Copyright REUTERS
By Sallyann Nicholls
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Three employees facing sexual misconduct allegations in Haiti were "physically threatening and intimidating" towards a witness, an internal report claims.


Three men accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti had physically threatened a witness during the 2011 investigation, an Oxfam report claims.

The charity released the report on Monday following intense public pressure, after claims came to light that its staff used prostitutes in Haiti after its deadly earthquake in 2010.

The report reveals that the names of seven men involved in sexual misconduct had been passed to national authorities, but parts of the 11-page file have been redacted to protect the identities of the accused.

In a statement on its website, Oxfam said it wanted to be “as transparent as possible” about decisions it made during its internal investigation, before it meets with representatives of Haiti’s government on Monday to "apologise for our mistakes".

Internal investigation

The report says an investigation was launched after the charity’s Loss Prevention team received an email from the Latin America and the Carribbean regional office claiming prostitutes had been hosted at Oxfam guesthouses in Haiti and staff were being sexually harassed.

Further allegations that the Country Director Roland Van Hauwermeiren had also used prostitutes at his subsidised residence followed.

The report says Van Hauwermeiren accepted the allegations during a formal interview and offered to resign, for which he was offered a “phased and dignified” exit after one month to preserve the reputation of the Haiti programme and its affiliates.

It could not be ruled out that any of the prostitutes involved in the scandal were under-aged, the report added.

The document goes on to detail the investigation into allegations made against Oxfam’s staff, during which 40 witnesses were interviewed. But the inquiry took a dark turn when the line manager of one of the suspects leaked details of the investigation to a third-party. It resulted in three suspects physically threatening and intimidating a witness, and being slapped with charges of bullying.

Seven employees left the organization as a result of their behavior in Haiti in 2011, the report says.

Two of them were dismissed and one resigned for bullying staff. One of the men had also been accused of downloading pornography on company computers. Another employee was dismissed for failing to protect staff.

Allegations of fraud, negligence, and nepotism were also raised during the investigation, but were unsubstantiated, the report adds.

The document concludes by looking at how Oxfam can prevent similar scandals from occurring in the future.

It details plans to update codes of conduct, increase awareness training and arrange meetings with female staff to examine workplace culture.

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