LONDON - Oxfam said Monday that three of its workers suspected of sexual misconduct during a Haiti earthquake rescue effort physically threatened a witness while the global charity was conducting an internal investigation into the allegations.
The British-based Oxfam released its 2011 report on the misconduct of its aid workers on the Caribbean island that included the hiring of prostitutes for liaisons at Oxfam premises outside Port-au-Prince. The charity says it has fired four people linked to the scandal and allowed three others to resign, including Roland Van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam's country director at the time.
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director, said that the charity “is urgently committed to act upon the moral responsibilities we have towards women in Haiti" and that it would meet with the government to apologize for its conduct on the island after the devastation from the 2010 earthquake.
She said Oxfam has undertaken "an independent review of our culture and practices by women’s rights leaders" that would "help ensure abuse is rooted out of Oxfam and help us become more effective in our mission to help create lasting solutions to poverty.”
Britain last week cut off new funding to Oxfam's British affiliate in the wake of the reports of the Haiti misconduct. The charity had received more than $43 million from the government in the 12 months that ended last March.
"The behavior that we've now discovered was horrific," British Prime Theresa May said after release of the 2011 report. "It was far below the standards that we expect for the charities and the (non-governmental organizations) that we're working with.
"We will not work with anybody who does not meet the high standards that we set and we believe are important," she said.
The 2011 report said that while the internal investigation was underway, a manager leaked a report about the probe to another, unconnected member of the staff.
"This resulted in three of the suspects physically threatening and intimidating one of the witnesses who had been referred to in the report," the Oxfam investigation said.
Oxfam said that Van Hauwermeiren was not among those accused of threatening or abusing others, but claimed that during the investigation he had admitted to hiring prostitutes while in Haiti. However, last week he denied the report while saying that he had had an affair with a Haitian woman whose family had received aid from Oxfam, but that no money had changed hands.