MSF reveals sex abuse cases as Oxfam scandal widens

A scandal over sexual abuse in the foreign aid industry that began with Oxfam spread Wednesday, as French group Doctors Without Borders revealed it had fired 19 staff last year for harassment or abuse.

The Paris-based group, known by its French acronym MSF, said it had received 146 complaints or alerts last year, of which 40 were found to be allegations of harassment or sexual assault.

It said in a statement that it had acted on 24 of these cases, firing 19 employees as a result.

With 40,000 staff around the world, MSF is one of the world’s largest aid groups, best known for its work offering medical aid in conflict zones.

“Even though reports of abuse have steadily increased, MSF is aware that abuse goes under-reported,” the charity said.

The revelations came as Oxfam grapples with allegations that it was not transparent about a scandal involving some of its staff for using prostitutes in Haiti following a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The scandal has led to the resignation of Oxfam’s deputy head and has thrown into question British government funding for the charity, which amounted to around £32-million (36-million euros, $44-million) last year.

Britain warned on Wednesday it would cut off ties with foreign aid charities that cover up sex scandals.

“Unless you report every serious incident or allegation, no matter how damaging to your reputation— we cannot be partners,” Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt told a conference in Stockholm, according to extracts of her speech released by her ministry.

Mordaunt called the Haiti prostitution allegations “horrifying”.

An Oxfam spokeswoman on Wednesday said the aid agency had received 1,270 cancellations of donations by direct debit between Saturday and Monday— compared to a normal monthly average of 600.

‘Goes around the system’

The allegations revolve around Oxfam’s then head of mission in Haiti, Belgian national Roland van Hauwermeiren, whose behaviour had already led to complaints when he worked for the charity in Chad.

After resigning from Oxfam, he went on to work for French charity Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh.

There were reports on Wednesday that there had already been complaints about Van Hauwermeiren and his use of prostitutes when he was working for the British medical charity Merlin in Liberia before joining Oxfam.

Swedish former aid worker Amira Malik Miller told the humanitarian news agency IRIN that she had made a complaint about him in 2004 when she was working alongside him in Liberia.

When she saw an initial report about Van Hauwermeiren in The Times newspaper last week, she remembered thinking: “Oh my God, he’s been doing this for 14 years.”

“He just goes around the system… from Liberia to Chad, to Haiti, to Bangladesh. Someone should have checked properly,” Malik Miller was quoted as saying.

Oxfam confirmed reports late Wednesday that another Haiti country director, Damien Berrendorf, was dismissed in 2017 after five years in the post.

“The dismissal was not related to sexual misconduct and was not connected to the case in 2011, however, there were allegations of inappropriate behaviour,” an Oxfam spokeswoman said.

Actress ‘devastated’ by response

Oxfam’s internal investigation into the use of prostitutes in Haiti led to the dismissal of four employees and three others being allowed to resign, including Van Hauwermeiren.

“They let perpetrators go. They did not inform donors, their regulator or prosecuting authorities,” Mordaunt said.

“It was not just the processes and procedures of that organisation that were lacking but moral leadership.”

CAFOD said Wednesday it had fired an employee after learning he was involved in the Haiti scandal.

He was hired in 2014 and provided two references, including one sent from a private email account by someone who said they had been his manager at Oxfam.

“We requested and yesterday received a reference from Oxfam GB headquarters which confirmed the allegations against him,” CAFOD director Chris Bain said in a statement.

British actress Minnie Driver quit her role as an Oxfam ambassador late Tuesday, saying she was “devastated” by the charity’s response to the scandal.

Several sponsors and partners of Oxfam including Visa and the retail chain Marks and Spencer have also said they are examining the situation.

© Agence France-Presse

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Stay at home, Cyril said. But what about the homeless?

In Tshwane, forcing homeless people off the street resulted in chaos and the abuse of a vulnerable population. In Durban, a smooth, well-planned operation fared far better

Press Releases

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world