UK House of Commons Investigates Civil Society’s Most Heinous Offenses
On July 31, 2018, the UK House of Common’s International Development Committee published its investigative report on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.
The report was commissioned in February in response to highly disturbing allegations against employees of Oxfam International and “misconduct by staff involved in its humanitarian response in Haiti.” Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Oxfam employees – including the Country Director, Roland Van Hauwemeiren – were found to have procured prostitutes, some of whom were reportedly underage.
It also emerged that Oxfam had known about the incidents for years and failed to report them to government authorities in Haiti or the UK. Furthermore, Van Hauwemeiren was given a “phased and dignified exit” when he left his post at Oxfam, and then went on to work as head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh. Prior to working at Oxfam, Van Hauwemeiren had also worked at the medical charity Merlin (now part of Save the Children).
In parallel to the Oxfam scandal, further allegations emerged about Save the Children UK and UN peacekeepers and civilian personnel, including “sex for food” schemes.
The British report is blunt, with the Committee expressing “confusion on the apparent shock” of international organizations and NGOs, considering “this is a known problem in the international aid sector for years” (emphasis added).
The report also details steps that should be taken to ensure that abuse is not only eradicated, but that the perpetrators are brought to justice and victims recompensed. The authors stress four necessary improvements – empowerment, reporting, screening, and most importantly, accountability.
The Committee highlights the failures of NGO self-regulation and stresses the need for a robust system of accountability and transparency. It adds that aid organizations must demonstrate increased emphasis on accountability and transparency “over reputation,” requiring comprehensive strategies for both domestic and international regulation.
Labour County Councillor and former Oxfam Governor Helen Evans also noted that this is especially pressing in the case of large NGOs, such as Oxfam, with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars that work across 90-plus countries.
One proposed remedy calls for the establishment of an independent aid ombudsman to review actions of NGOs and provide redress. Similarly, the Commission also suggested an intergovernmental model similar to that of the Financial Action Task Force, in which best practices and reviews of members are conducted on an ongoing basis.
NGO Monitor has for over a decade called for the creation of oversight mechanisms in international funding processes.