Scathing probe of Oxfam GB slams aid group’s failure to stop sexual, physical misconduct

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  • The U.K.’s Charity Commission has released a damning report following an 18-month probe into Oxfam GB’s actions in Haiti.
  • Two New Brunswick teenagers have developed a new system to predict floods.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Oxfam GB

The British arm of Oxfam, one of the world’s largest aid organizations, has been slammed for failing to heed warnings about sexual abuse by its program workers in Haiti, and for its internal culture of “tolerating poor behaviour.”

The damning findings come from a newly released report by the U.K.’s Charity Commission following an 18-month probe into Oxfam GB’s actions in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The investigation concludes that the aid group ignored or downplayed concerns raised by whistleblowers who complained that staff were hiring local prostitutes for parties, and did not sufficiently investigate claims of physical abuse and other misconduct it received from two girls aged 12 and 13.

“No charity is more important than the people it serves or the mission it pursues,” the report says. [Oxfam GB’s] governance and culture with regard to safeguarding has repeatedly fallen below standards expected and failed to meet promises made.”

A worker checks water sanitation equipment at Oxfam’s logistics warehouse in Bicester, England, before shipping it to Haiti on Jan. 15, 2010. Oxfam provided aid to Haitians in the aftermath of the disastrous 2010 earthquake. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

The charity handled the matter internally at the time, firing four people and letting three others resign, including its country director for Haiti.

But when the story became public at the beginning of 2018, dozens of other victims came forward and allegations were raised about staff sexual misconduct on projects in Chad and the Philippines. It was also reported that the aid worker at the centre of the Haiti scandal, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had left a job with another British charity in 2004 after concerns were raised about sex parties in Liberia.

Oxfam GB saw more than 7,000 donors cancel their gifts following the revelations and had to slice $ 27 million from its 2019 program budget. The group’s chief executive stepped down, and under threat of a funding freeze by the U.K. government, the organization agreed not to apply for any new aid money until the allegations were fully investigated.

Last month, Oxfam disclosed that it has dismissed 79 staff since the spring of 2018 after receiving more than 300 complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and sexual exploitation.

An independent inquiry that the charity commissioned to examine its work culture and practices in the field is due to deliver its final report later this month.

An Oxfam emergency team delivers hygiene kits to prevent the spread of Cholera and other diseases in the town of Camp Perrin, Haiti, in October 2016 after hurricane Matthew. (Fran Afonso/Oxfam International via EPA)

Today’s Charity Commission report comes with an official caution from the government regulator, which requires Oxfam to create a plan to improve its governance and implement a series of recommendations.

But the investigation also contained a warning for other aid groups.

All charities need to absorb the central lesson from Oxfam’s shortcomings, it says. “Keeping people safe is an integral part of their front line operations. It is not an added extra.”

And all indications are that the problems in the charity sector extend far beyond one group.

When the Oxfam scandal broke in early 2018, it was reported a total of 120 workers from several leading British charities, including Save the Children and the Red Cross, were facing sexual abuse allegations.

And a survey of leading global aid organizations, conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation earlier this year, found that they had fired 91 staff after receiving 539 reports of sex abuse and harassment in 2018.

In March, the United Nations said that it had received just over 200 reports of sexual exploitation and violence by staff and partners last year, including 54 allegations levelled against peacekeepers and 19 against World Food Program employees.

Haiti’s Minister of Planning and External Cooperation, Aviol Fleurant, displays a statement about the Oxfam scandal in Port-au-Prince on June 13, 2018. (Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters)

Last week, a federal court judge in Connecticut ratified a $ 60 million US class action settlement for 170 Haitians who say they were victims of sexual abuse as children while attending a school run by a now-defunct American charity.

And More Than Me, an American charity that focused on rescuing Liberian girls from sexual exploitation, is facing possible criminal and civil action after a ProPublica investigation says it failed to prevent the rapes of young women in its care by staff members.

Today brings news that a prominent Canadian aid worker had been found guilty of sexually assaulting children in Nepal. Peter Dalglish, the founder of Street Kids International and an Order of Canada recipient, has been in a jail near Kathmandu for more than a year after the Central Investigation Bureau of the Nepal Police arrested him at gunpoint.

He denies the charges made by two boys, aged 11 and 14, and his lawyers have accused the police of bribing and intimidating witnesses.

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Getting ahead of the flood

Two New Brunswick teenagers have figured out a new system for predicting floods, reporter Nick Purdon writes.

We meet in the library at Fredericton High School.

Fifteen-year-old Cynthia Cui is in Grade 10 and her brother Leonardo, 17, is in Grade 11. They’ve cut class to show me the interactive flood prediction map they’ve developed.  

For the past two years, New Brunswick has lived through the worst floods in Canada.

About 5,500 homes along the St. John River flooded or were at risk of flooding this year, according to Statistics Canada. And the Fredericton-Saint John region had the largest flooded area in the country — 383 square kilometres.

“It’s just such a devastating event to lose your home to flooding,” says Cynthia. “So we felt if people could know in advance, they could prepare adequately for flooding — then that could really help the community.”

Fredericton high-school students Cynthia Cui and her brother Leonardo developed an interactive flood-prediction map for a science fair competition that is more accurate than the existing ones in use in the province. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

As we sit down to look at their flood-prediction system, I casually ask how many hours it took them.

Leonardo’s eyes widen. He looks at me as if I am a typical adult who doesn’t understand anything.

“It was more than hours,” he says. “It took months!”

“I really don’t want to count,” Cynthia adds, before explaining how the siblings had to work around their hectic schedules, which include rowing practices, fencing competitions, chess tournaments and everyday school work.

What the Cuis show me is pretty remarkable.

Using historical climate data and a machine-learning algorithm that analyzes patterns, they created a map of Fredericton that can forecast floods.

Leonardo enters some data and shows me how it works.

“If there’s a blue colour where your house is on the map, it means your house is getting flooded,” he says. “And you can see how severely it is getting flooded by the colour gradient.”

The flood-modelling won the Intact Climate Change Resilience Award at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Fredericton. (Nick Purdon)

Their map has proven more accurate than anything previously available, and it landed the siblings a major award at a recent National Science Fair.

“We are just happy that we can use our model and that we can give back to the community,” Cynthia says.

Meet the Cuis tonight in our story on The National that looks at how the flooding in New Brunswick continues to affect people long after the waters subsided.

– Nick Purdon

  • WATCH: The story about the impact the extensive flooding in New Brunswick has had on peoples’ lives, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Quote of the moment

“We chose Canada because the climate there is similar to our region. So that they [Russian authorities] wouldn’t say that we just wanted to move to warm countries.”

– Vitaly Sheshtakov, part of a group of residents from the Siberian coal mining town of Kiselyovsk who are asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let them emigrate to Canada as “environmental refugees.”

What The National is reading

  • Protesters brace for fresh showdown with police over Hong Kong extradition bill (SCMP)
  • Rights group maps hundreds of public execution sites in North Korea (BBC)
  • Cuba called its doctors home, Brazil did not replace them (NYTimes)
  • German Extinction Rebellion activists chain themselves to Merkel’s door (Deutsche Welle)
  • Light exposure during sleep linked to weight gain in women: study (Agence France Presse)
  • $ 450 million Da Vinci masterpiece is on board Saudi Crown Prince’s superyacht (Bloomberg)
  • Radiohead releases hours of ‘OK Computer’ sessions after ransom hack (Guardian)
  • The literal translation of every country’s name, mapped (Digg)

Today in history

June 11, 1961: Census counts Canadians, whether they like it or not

The 1961 census was going mostly as planned — a refusal rate of just 0.5 per cent, and “not a Doukhobor among them,” this CBC Newsmagazine story notes. But there was one man who stood ready to fight the “encroaching restrictions and regulations” of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Alec Beasley, a B.C. chicken farmer, tells a reporter that he’s willing to pay the $ 100 fine ($ 865 in 2019 dollars) for non-compliance.

Subjects who like a long visit and refusers are two of the challenges to census gathering. 2:16

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