Oxfam apologizes to Haiti over sex allegations


Will Grant (BBC News) informs us about Haitians’ reactions to abuses and other irregularities by Oxfam’s team in Haiti; some of the victims of their predatory actions were underage. Meanwhile, Oxfam has offered its “humblest apologies” to the Haitian government over allegations of sexual exploitation by its staff, according the Nicola Slawson (The Guardian) and Oxfam’s deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, has resigned. Here are excerpts from BBC News and The Guardian. Grant writes:

For an industry that generally operates in the shadows, prostitution in Haiti is barely hidden from view. On certain street corners of Pétion-Ville, an upscale suburb of the capital, young sex workers huddle in groups, hoping to persuade one of the scores of SUVs driving around the hillsides to pull over.

It is no coincidence that many of the bars popular with expats are nearby. From Save the Children to the Caris Foundation, some international aid agencies have traditionally tried to help to Haiti’s sex workers through sexual health clinics or HIV/AIDS-testing programmes for mothers and infants. However, it appears that instead of offering unconditional support to these women, in 2011 several members of Oxfam’s team in Haiti preyed on them.

Various senior aid workers, including the disgraced country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren, allegedly paid local prostitutes for sex.

That men could be exploiting some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest country in the Americas, all the while being paid to advocate for their wellbeing, is a hypocrisy not lost on Josefine. The former Oxfam employee, whose name has been changed, worked under Mr Van Hauwemeiren at the time and said there was a culture of abuse, which included sexual harassment, in the Port-au-Prince office. “Powerful people did whatever they wanted and they got away with it,” she tells me in a hotel cafe in the capital, kneading her hands anxiously. “That’s what I would say, there was no protection for victims.”

Josefine is still too scared to talk freely. She said she raised her concerns once and it cost her her job. It was enough to put her off from trying again. “People did try [to speak out], there were some good people who tried. But something bigger should have been done so they didn’t go on to get jobs in other places.”

She is referring to the fact that Mr Van Hauwermeiren ended up taking another high-profile position, as the head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh. What angers her most though, is that it appears allegations of misconduct about the men had been raised before they even arrived in Haiti. “If they did that in other countries before coming here, then they’re probably going to continue to do it here,” she says, her frustration and anger undimmed seven years on.

Then she repeated one of the key accusations, one that Oxfam has said was unproven in its investigation into the scandal: that some of the victims were underage. [. . .]

Nicola Slawson (The Guardian) writes: Ticehurst, who is the regional director for Latin America, said: “Oxfam is grateful to the Haitian government for allowing us the chance now to offer our humblest apologies and to begin explaining ourselves and start the long road ahead of re-establishing trust and partnership, given our 40-year history with Haiti and its citizens.

“We stand ready to engage with the Haitian people and have expressed our openness to cooperate as much as required with the Haitian government.”

The apology was made as Oxfam finally released the findings of its investigation into the behaviour of relief workers sent to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, as part of efforts to draw a line under the crisis that has engulfed the charity for the past week. [. . .]

For full articles, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-43043923 and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/oxfam-apologises-to-haiti-over-sex-allegations

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