Oxfam knew a senior staffer was accused of sexual misconduct. They didn’t warn the next NGO

Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted to hiring prostitutes, which is illegal. He quietly resigned and went on to a high-level position at another charity.
Roland van Hauwermeiren admitted to hiring prostitutes, which is illegal. He quietly resigned and went on to a high-level position at another charity.
Image: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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After a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Britain’s largest charity Oxfam sent workers to the island to assist in disaster relief. But some staff at the international humanitarian organization used the trip to do more than just help.

A Times of London investigation (paywall) published Thursday spoke to sources who said Oxfam aid workers hired prostitutes and threw orgy-like parties in a villa rented by Oxfam in 2011. “These girls wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy,” the source told the Times, about parties at the house.

The report also surfaced internal allegations that Oxfam’s country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, hired prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti.

Hauwemeiren resigned from Oxfam that same year. The following year, he took a position as head of mission for the French charity Action Against Hunger, in poverty-stricken Bangladesh. The organization says it received no warning of allegations against Hauwemeiren.

Oxfam “did not share with us any warning regarding [his] unethical conduct, the reasons of his resignation or the results of internal inquiry,” a spokesman for Action Against Hunger told the Times. “Moreover, we received positive references from former Oxfam staff who worked with him, among them a [former] HR person.”

On Friday, Oxfam issued a statement admitting there was “sexual misconduct” in Haiti, though it did not confirm details of the misconduct alleged in the Times report.

“This behaviour was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” Oxfam wrote, noting four staff members were fired and acknowledging that Hauwemeiren as well as two other staff members resigned.

“The misconduct findings related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct. Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.”

Haiti, reeling after the January 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 200,000 people, was already the victim of another aid worker-created disaster: UN relief workers from Nepal reportedly sparked a cholera outbreak on the island which killed thousands. A cholera outbreak was already underway in Nepal, and the workers failed to take sanitary precautions to prevent potentially importing the pathogen to Haiti. Cholera is a fecal-borne disease that spreads through contaminated water, and waste from the base leaked into a nearby river.

The UN admitted to playing a role in the outbreak in 2016, six years after it began. The outbreak is suspected to have caused 800,000 infections and nearly 10,000 deaths, some as recently as 2017, according to official tallies. But 2016 report by Doctors Without Borders suggests the actual death toll could be much higher, due to underreporting at the beginning of the outbreak.