Three Oxfam staff 'physically threatened' a witness mentioned in charity's report

A report released by the charity today says the threats were made by three unnamed members of staff who left after allegations of sexual misconduct in 2011

The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake
The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Three of the Oxfam staff accused of "unacceptable behaviour" in its Haiti programme in 2011 were found to have been "physically threatening and intimidating" towards a witness referred to in the charity’s investigation report, according to the charity’s now published report on the allegations.

The report, which was released by Oxfam today, examines allegations of sexual misconduct and other claims of unacceptable behaviour in Oxfam’s Haiti programme in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that destroyed large parts of the country.

The emergence of the claims of sexual misconduct in Haiti, and criticisms of how Oxfam handled the case, led to crisis talks with the Department for International Development, which announced last week that Oxfam would not apply for any more funding until it addressed concerns about its handling of the 2011 case and its safeguarding functions.

The Oxfam investigation report is redacted and therefore the names of the eight people accused of misconduct in Haiti are not included, with the exception of Roland van Hauwermeiren, country director at the time.

Van Hauwermeiren was not accused of threatening or intimidating a witness. These allegations were upheld against three other unnamed staff members.

The report says that on 12 July 2011 Oxfam received reports that members of staff in Haiti had broken its code of conduct, which led to the opening of an investigation.

The allegations included the use of prostitutes in the charity’s guest houses, sexual harassment of staff, fraud, negligence and nepotism, the report says.

An allegation against van Hauwermeiren about his use of prostitutes was later received by the charity before its loss-prevention team reached Haiti, the report says, and these allegations were prioritised for investigation by Oxfam’s senior management.

The loss-prevention team managed to substantiate the allegations of Van Hauwermeiren’s use of prostitutes in the first four days of the investigation, according to the report, and he was then briefed in a meeting about the claims against him and interviewed.

At that meeting he offered his resignation and took full responsibility, the report says. It was agreed that the charity "might accept his resignation and allow him a phased and dignified exit, provided he would fully cooperate with the rest of the investigation".

The report says that Oxfam’s chief executive at the time, Barbara Stocking, and Penny Lawrence, the programme director at Oxfam in 2011 and deputy chief executive from 2016 until her resignation last week, accepted the country director’s resignation because of the "potentially serious implications" for the Haiti programme and the rest of the investigation.

During the investigation, the report says, an investigation report was leaked by a line manager of one of the suspects to an unconnected member of staff, which led to the physical threatening and intimidation of one of the investigation’s witnesses.

The report says that two other members of staff eventually resigned, four were dismissed for gross misconduct and another one received a final written warning for leaking the investigation report.

Claims of fraud, nepotism and the use of under-age prostitutes were not substantiated by the investigation, the report says, although it adds that "it cannot be ruled out that any of the prostitutes were under-aged".

An action plan was issued in the wake of the investigation to improve the charity’s culture and safeguarding processes.

The preface to the report says that the charity will apologise to the Haitian government for what happened in 2011 and a fully non-redacted version of the report will be given to the Haitian ambassador to the UK in a meeting later today.

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