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Oxfam chief says sex abuse claims a ‘stain’ on the organization

Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima said she is appointing an independent commission to investigate the allegations that staff members used prostitutes in Haiti

world Updated: Feb 17, 2018 09:09 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press, London
Oxfam,Sex scandal,Oxfam sex scandal
A sign is seen above a branch of Oxfam in London, Britain.(REUTERS File Photo)

Reports that Oxfam staff members sexually exploited people in crisis zones are “a stain” that shames the charity, the organization’s chief said in an interview broadcast Friday.

But the head of Oxfam’s British arm — the branch of the aid agency at the centre of the scandal — said the attacks on the organization are “out of proportion” to its mistakes.

Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima said she is appointing an independent commission to investigate the allegations that staff members used prostitutes in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake, and also in Chad. She urged all victims of abuse to come forward.

“I’m here for all the women who have been abused. I want them to come forward and for justice to be done for them,” she told the BBC.

Byanyima said the commission would “look into our culture and our practices” and set up a vetting system for its staff.

UK based Oxfam has been rocked by allegations that senior staff working in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake faced misconduct allegations, including using prostitutes and downloading pornography. The allegations relate to Oxfam GB, one of the 20 affiliate organizations that make up Oxfam International.

Oxfam says it investigated the case, fired four workers and let three others resign, but the British government and charity regulators have criticized its lack of transparency.

“What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so,” Byanyima said.

The scandal could imperil the future of Oxfam, which relies on funding from governments and public donations. South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, British actress Minnie Driver and Senegalese musician Baaba Maal all resigned as Oxfam celebrity ambassadors in the wake of the abuse allegations.

UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has warned that British government funding to the group some 31.7 million pounds in 2016-17 is at risk unless it comes clean about the allegations, and Britain’s charity regulator has launched an investigation.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, admitted the organization needed to reform, but said “the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability.”

He told The Guardian that the scandal could have “a substantial effect on public confidence, which would affect public donations.”

First Published: Feb 17, 2018 09:06 IST