Two Oxfam aid workers have been suspended as part of an investigation into allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct against senior managers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The investigation comes just weeks after the charity’s legal oversight status was lifted following reforms prompted by a 2019 report on the conduct of its staff after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
An Oxfam spokesperson confirmed that two of its staff in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been suspended as part of an ongoing external investigation set up by the UK-based NGO last November into allegations of abuses of power, including the harassment and sexual misconduct.
“The Charity Commission for England and Wales was notified at the beginning of the investigation and we have kept it informed of its progress. We are acutely aware of our duty to survivors, including supporting them to speak safely. We are working hard to conclude the investigation in a fair, safe and effective manner, ”said a spokesperson.
Oxfam has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1961 and its work focuses primarily on humanitarian projects, such as providing long-term access to clean water.
The Time reports that the allegations against Oxfam staff in the country are described in a 10-page letter sent to heads of charities in February. The letter reportedly details the allegations against 11 individuals and is signed by more than 20 current and former Oxfam employees, with allegations ranging from sexual harassment and intimidation to systemic fraud and corruption.
Oxfam has been in the limelight in recent years after the Charity Commission determined in 2019 that it had not fully disclosed allegations that staff working in disaster areas had sexually abused children. The watchdog also cited a “culture of misconduct” among Oxfam GB staff sent to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.
The allegations included that staff used child sex workers, including at Oxfam facilities on the crisis-hit Caribbean island, and that safeguards to protect vulnerable people were inadequate.
Legal oversight of the charity was lifted in February after it implemented most of the 100 recommendations generated by the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told the Times: “We have been in active contact with the charity in its investigations into allegations of misconduct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and have received regular updates and assurances on the steps it is taking to address concerns. “
The new allegations of sexual abuse come amid a series of similar charges brought against other organizations working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Last year, more than 50 women accused humanitarian workers of the World Health Organization and leading NGOs of sexual exploitation and abuse during efforts to combat Ebola.
In interviews, women, many of whose accounts were backed by drivers from aid agencies and local NGO workers, reported multiple incidents of abuse, primarily by men who claimed to be international workers, during the 2018-20 Ebola crisis, according to an investigation. by New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Most of the women said that numerous men proposed to them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminated contracts when they refused. The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, called for the complaints to be “thoroughly investigated.”
In January, a British parliamentary inquiry he found evidence of widespread beneficiary abuse, ineffective investigations, and whistleblowers forced to leave their jobs, despite a series of recent scandals that have sparked some reforms.
Sexual predators could still be rehired due to inadequate protection and reporting mechanisms, the international development committee (IDC) said, and concluded that aid culture was a significant factor in the scale of the problem.
The IDC said the coronavirus pandemic has likely compounded the problem, as food shortages and aid cuts have exacerbated the vulnerability of aid recipients, mostly women.
Sarah Champion, President of IDC, said: “Our investigation has found that beneficiary abuse is widespread and that the industry has effectively become the last safe haven for perpetrators.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism