SILENT VICTIMS

Oxfam’s scandal in Haiti has roots in Chad, where finding justice will be even harder

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Oxfam’s good work has been overshadowed by a scandal that has rocked the entire international aid community. On closer inspection, that scandal may be much older, with roots in the charity organization’s work in Africa.

An investigation by British newspaper The Times, exposed how aid workers hired prostitutes in Haiti, some of them underage girls. Aid workers who leaked the story alleged a “full-on Caligula orgy” took place at Oxfam’s villa, where the NGO was helping the country recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake.

The man at the center of the scandal is Roland van Hauwermeiren, the head of mission in Haiti who was forced to resign when Oxfam learned of the abuses. Now, new allegations show that van Hauwermeiren’s misconduct actually began in Chad. Oxfam failed to warn the next NGO that hired van Hauwermeiren and others.

“We’ve now heard of further allegations about the use of sex workers by Oxfam staff in Chad in 2006,” Oxfam said in a Feb. 11 statement. We are shocked and dismayed about these latest revelations.”

Van Hauwermeiren was head of Oxfam in Haiti, when in 2006 another senior members was fired for his behavior, the Guardian reported on Feb 11. The few details available are shockingly similar to the Haiti revelations: Despite a strict curfew, other Oxfam aid workers raised concerns of alleged prostitutes visiting Oxfam residences.

Little else is known about what else happened in Chad. Oxfam says it is still trying to corroborate the information from Chad, but said it highlighted “unacceptable behavior by a small number of people.”

“This was a case of a group of privileged men abusing those they were meant to protect,” Oxfam said in the statement.

In Chad, Oxfam works to strengthen civil society, as well as help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change as the Sahara desert eats up grazing land. But, the countries media freedom and civil society (despite Oxfam’s efforts) have little room to move under president Idriss Déby, who as been in power since 1990.

There has been little reaction from Chad that has been accessible outside of the country. It’s unclear if the victims of Oxfam’s alleged abuse will ever see justice, based on a precedent of just how aid agencies have been able to get away with misconduct.

Chad’s neighbor, the Central African Republic, has borne witness to a spate of sexual exploitation allegations by peacekeepers, involving shocking accusations of child abuse. Yet, the United Nations seems to have botched that internal investigation and the country’s justice system has done little more.

Code Blue, an NGO formed as peacekeeper watchdog, is also looking into cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Niger, Burundi, Cameroon and more, according to an investigation by Al Jazeera.

 

In the UK, the Charities Commission has demanded answers from Oxfam, the organization’s deputy CEO has resigned and CEO Mark Goldring has been doing the rounds on television trying to convince citizens that Oxfam still deserved their funding. The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is said to be considering cutting funding for Oxfam in light of the allegations.

From Chad, however, the world is yet to hear anything.

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