Oxfam Haiti: between bullying and prostitution

Barbara Debout

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The former director of Oxfam Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, recognised in an internal inquiry, having brought prostitutes in 2011 to his home financed by the organisation.

Oxfam Haiti Scrabble - photo credit Marco Verch (Flickr)
Oxfam Haiti Scrabble – photo credit – Marco Verch (Flickr)

It’s in a tense atmosphere, where the term “misogyny“ is omnipresent on media, that the Oxfam scandal has soared. The former director of Oxfam Haiti gets stuck at the centre of a sexual scandal. He recognised to had paid for a sexual act with different sexual workers in staff housing, according to a report launched in 2011 by Oxfam coming from an internal inquiry carried out on the 19th February 2018.

With two other leaders, Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68 years old, had to resign after allegations under which the three men had paid for young prostitutes during their humanitarian mission in Haiti, after the terrible earthquakes in 2010. Oxfam forwarded the internal inquiries about this humanitarian mission to the Haitian government carried out in 2011. One of the leaders recognised the facts, some others are accused of harassment and bullying, and a witness has been physically threatened.

A young Haitian woman declared to The Times that she had a sexual relationship with M. van Hauwermeiren when she was 16 and him 61 years old. According to her testimony, he gave her money and baby nappies for her newborn. Last week, the former director, fought back by saying that he had never organized “ wild parties “ with young prostitutes. He confessed, in a letter published by Belgium media “ this was with an honourable, mature woman, who was not an earthquake victim nor a prostitute. And I did not give her any money “.

Unfortunately, in the intern report of 2011 that the organisation released in a partially censored version, the ex-leader admitted to had sexual relation with prostitutes. Oxfam offered him a “ way to leave with dignity if he fully cooperates with the investigation “. Because of the media coverage, the non-governmental organisation, chose last week to finally release these inquiries to be transparent.

A global scandal

The real cause of this scandal is that the organisation known about the activities of M. van Hauwermeiren. After his resignation, he became the director of the French organisation “Action Contre la Faim“ in Bangladesh. The organisation regrets that Oxfam well kept this priceless information. Still according to The Times, in 2004, while he was working in Liberia, a complaint about sexual assault was lodged against him. In this series of revelation, the magazine, has notified that the first alerts about Roland van Hauwermeiren were during its passage in Tchad in 2006. Nevertheless, those accusations against the Belgian men are only the trigger member of the “Oxfamgate“.


Helen Evans, the director of the intern prevention in Oxfam between 2012 and 2015, declared on Channel 4 the existence of an “abuse culture“ in some Oxfam offices. She reports incidents of rape or attempts to rape in South Soudan as well as assaults on minors volunteers in UK Oxfam shops. It was based on an internal inquiry realised on 120 people in three different countries. Still in the interview for Channel 4, she’s deploring the lack of reactivity from the Oxfam leadership, despite her alerts. The current director, Mark Goldring, recognised that he had «not acted in a prompt» but he assured that “he took the matter seriously“. However, voices have been raised for his resignation. It is the case of Nigel Evans, a Conservative member of the international development select committee. He declared to The Times: “By what Mr. Goldring has already conceded, he should go. He has admitted that he didn’t take on board what his own safeguarding officer was saying. He’s part of the problem, not the solution. Let’s get somebody else in who can cleanse the organisation“. With respect to the assistant director, Penny Lawrence, she resigned last week.

To add Irony to this whole situation, the Oxfam international director, Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, have been arrested last Tuesday, as part of an anti-corruption investigation opened in 2015 in Guatemala. During the fact, M. Fuentes Knight was the finance minister of the President of Guatemala. Those two political figures have been arrested with about ten ministers.

What about Oxfam Ireland?

Oxfam Ireland is one of 17 Oxfam working together in 92 countries and has 51 shops across Ireland, north and south, with over 1,000 volunteers. With as much implication in the worldwide organisation originally from Britain, Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s chief executive has reacted rapidly after the scandal exposure. He has sent an email to people who pay monthly direct debits to it reassuring them that its branch wasn’t involved in the recent scandal only involving UK workers for now.

He is stressing in his letter, “No staff employed by Oxfam Ireland were involved in these cases and they did not involve the misuse of public funds. All of the money that was raised by Oxfam Ireland supporters for Haiti was spent as planned on the relief response to the 2010 earthquake“. But the clear message from Jim Clarken in his letter it is what he feels “I feel great responsibility in the trust that you place in us and I know that this awful situation may have damaged that“, he continues, “We feel deep shame in the behaviour of those who failed to uphold our values, values I know you share“.

The issue of the future of the organisation in Ireland is worrying, to reassure on this part, Jim Clarken said “It is my priority to ensure that our staff, volunteers and the people we work for are safe and valued and we have several safeguarding policies in operation to prevent harassment and abuse, including a prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse policy – We promise to continue to be open and transparent and rebuild any trust lost“. While this hard time in the charity world, the two leading charities, Oxfam Ireland, and GOAL are talking about a “possible merger“ of the two organisations. To be continued…

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Barbara Debout