You requested a joint submission from the Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence on the steps taken in response to receipt of the 2002 report on Sexual violence and exploitation: the experience of refugee children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including the references to allegations against British peacekeeping personnel in Sierra Leone.
Please find this attached at Annex A with an associated supporting document at Annex B. This incorporates input from the tri-departmental (DFID, MoD and FCO) UN Peacekeeping Joint Unit which leads on the UK Government’s peacekeeping policy.
In your letter to DFID you requested our view on Oxfam’s reporting of the Haiti investigations and proceedings in 2011. As set out in DFID’s written evidence to the Committee, letters were received from Oxfam on 5 August, 18 August and 5 September 2011, informing DFID that it had launched, conducted and concluded an investigation in 2011 and that they had informed the Charity Commission. At no point did they report to DFID that allegations referred to sexual misconduct. Oxfam gave DFID clear reassurances that none of these instances of misconduct involved beneficiaries or the misuse of any funds intended for post-earthquake reconstruction efforts in Haiti. As you are aware, the ongoing Charity Commission Inquiry is examining Oxfam’s handling and disclosure to the Commission, statutory funders, donors, agencies and stakeholders, in relation to these serious safeguarding incidents.
You also asked for an update from DFID on any further developments on safeguarding, particularly on our plans for the conference to be held later this year.
The UK will host an international conference on tackling sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector on 18 October in London. This will be a key milestone for demonstrating sector-wide progress on driving up safeguarding standards. There have been no major developments on preparations for the conference since the Written Ministerial Statement of 17 May. DFID recently published an Addendum to the High-Level Summary on Safeguarding Assurance returns. Internationally, the G7 Development Ministers and OECD DAC Tidewater meetings agreed joint statements on tackling sexual exploitation and abuse. Links are provided to these at Annex C.
Thank you again for the Committee’s attention to this crucial issue. The UK Government is committed to drive up safeguarding standards across the aid sector to keep people safe from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.
1.Further to a request from the International Development Committee dated 11 June 2018, this note outlines steps taken by the Department for International Development (DFID) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) following receipt of the report on Sexual violence and exploitation: the experience of refugee children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2002.
2.Advice was provided to DFID Ministers (addressed to the then-Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State) on 27 February 2002 – this is included at Annex B. This noted that the co-authors of the report, from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children UK, had already begun to take steps to improve the safety and security of refugees and that DFID would follow up on this with UNHCR (see below).
3.The MoD has not located any records of advice provided to Ministers at that time.
4.Immediate actions taken by UNHCR in response to the report, which DFID monitored through our ongoing partnership with the agency, included the following:
Upon receipt of a confidential report in November 2001, UNHCR began implementing a series of specific preventive and remedial actions aimed at better protecting refugee women and more effectively addressing the problem of sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee children in West Africa. This included UNHCR appointing a focal point for sexual and gender based violence in West Africa.
Simultaneously, UNHCR requested the Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
A number of concrete measures were taken by UNHCR in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – including strengthened protection for victims and reporting mechanisms; improved delivery of assistance and services; raising awareness in refugee communities and refugee education; enhanced coordination with other UN agencies and NGOs; and increasing awareness and accountability among personnel in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
UNHCR sent letters to the NGOs mentioned in the consultant’s report and the Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) report, informing them of the allegations implicating their staff. UNHCR followed up to find out what action had been taken.
5.The international response to the report led to the establishment in 2002 of the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and the beginning of the development of the Core Humanitarian Standard from 2006.
6.Other key developments soon after publication of the report included the adoption in 2003 of UN General Assembly Resolution 57/306 on “Investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa” and the UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse”.
7.The report makes a single allegation against UK personnel; that British peacekeepers taking part in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) were alleged to have been involved in sexually exploitative relationships with refugee/displaced children in Freetown. The allegation is caveated, stating “These allegations were not investigated by the assessment team and require further substantiation”.
8.No inquiry was initiated by the Royal Military Police as a result of the publication of the report nor have there been any investigations into alleged allegations of abuse by Army personnel whilst deployed on UN Missions in Africa. No evidence as to the source of the claim, the complainant, location, date, the accused or the offence was provided in the report.
9.Service personnel are held to the highest standards of conduct, and this is instilled through training in values and standards in initial training, career training, and re-iterated for specific operations. The Army has internally published guidance covering women, peace and security and gender mainstreaming, and children and armed conflict.
10.Annual training in the Values and Standards required of a soldier in the British Army includes instruction on the law of armed conflict, and training to understand the requirement for self-discipline and respect for others, including the moral courage to do what is right and to maintain “the highest standards of decency and behaviour at all times and in all circumstances, which will earn respect and foster trust.”
11.Army pre-deployment training to all personnel deploying on UN missions includes a dedicated session on women, peace and security which addresses the prevention of sexual violence as a weapon of war, how to deal with incidences of sexual gender-based violence and how to support the protection of civilians, including women and girls, as well as men and boys.
12.Additional training on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is included, and explains what SEA is, the standards and behaviours expected of soldiers, and what action that could be taken if soldiers suspect that SEA is taking place.
13.On arrival in the theatre of operations, soldiers undergo a Reception Staging and Onward Integration process that reinforces the training they have been taught during their mission specific training in the UK.
[Official’s name removed]
DATE: 27 February 2002
WEST AFRICA CHILD SEX ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
1.As requested, please find attached at Flag A a copy of the UNHCR/Save The Children (SCF UK) report: Sexual Violence and Exploitation – The experience of refugee children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, along with a summary press release from UNHCR and SCF UK at Flag B.
2.The report is not a formal investigation as such, more a collection of testimonies, which have been collated in the form of a Guidance Note for Implementing and Operational Partners. Both UNHCR and SCF UK are following up with more formal investigations because of the seriousness of the allegations uncovered. UNHCR and Save the Children UK have chosen to make the report public because of ‘the disturbing nature of the allegations, the apparent scope of the problem, and the need for immediate and co-ordinated remedial measures by a wide range of agencies and organisations’.
3.Allegations are of exchange of under-age sex for access to shelter, food and other services, with the major culprits alleged to have been local staff of up to 40 different NGOs, UNHCR, Save the Children, as well as UN peacekeepers themselves. The problem with the humanitarian workers appears to be especially pronounced in refugee camps in Guinea and Liberia.
4.UNHCR and SCF have already begun to take steps to improve the safety and security of the refugees, stamp out these practices and improve monitoring so that it does not reoccur. For now, I would suggest the line for the PUSS to take in his interview this afternoon is:
[Official’s name removed]
West and North Africa Department
G7 Development Ministers statement
OECD DAC Tidewater meeting statement
1.DFID’s testimony suggested the following:
No basis for allegations against British peacekeepers because the UN investigated and found nothing.
My response - The UN-OIOS did not investigate as it never asked me for details of the specific allegation referring to British Peacekeepers in the West Africa report. This information was gathered by me from a credible source in UNICEF. The UK government did not ask me for details at the time, neither did anyone else. This is the first time I am being asked about it.
Only a minority of allegations arising from the West Africa report were proven according to the UN investigation.
My response - UN-OIOS chose to investigate a sample of the 67 allegations only and said they could not be substantiated. It went on to uncover 43 new allegations itself and confirmed the existence of the problem of sexual exploitation/abuse in the aid sector in West Africa. The UN-OIOS investigation was criticised at the time by governments, Save the Children UK, human rights organisations and the media - see Submission dated 11 April 2018 (SEA0042).
Agencies said they could find no basis for the allegations.
My response - The 40 agencies were not given the full information needed to investigate properly. The information on specific allegations was contained in several confidential lists organised by country, camp and organisation and amounting to 60+ pages. The sources were kept in separate lists for protection and cross-referenced to the allegations using a coding system. Additional information was in field notes kept by team members. UN-OIOS/UNHCR would have needed my help to assemble the information on specific allegations from disparate documents. I was never asked to assist in this process. I was only involved in providing information to one organisation, Save the Children UK itself. In a note dated 8 December 2001, SC-UK was provided with information on 4 allegations; following which it conducted an investigation and sacked 3 workers.
2.DFID was made aware of the controversies of the UN response in 2002/2003
from various sources including MPs such as Debra Shipley and Caroline Spelman (See Submission 11 April 2018 - SEA0042) and also through emails and conversations with me – see Annex. I have briefed the current DFID administration on the issues surrounding the West Africa report various times since February this year.
3.The West Africa report led to policy change
The Inter-agency standing committee on sexual exploitation and abuse was set up in March 2002 in response; a UN General Assembly resolution was passed; a global policy on sexual exploitation and abuse (UN SG 2003 Bulletin) was issued. But victims/survivors/witnesses were let down by the failure to carry out a prompt and fair investigation in relation to specific allegations, and they were undermined by statements from some senior figures attempting to deny the allegations and dismiss the report.
1.Email response from DFID saying they were not making a statement at the UN General Assembly questioning the UN’s investigation into the West Africa report (unlike some other governments such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand who were making such a statement).
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 18:11:43 +0000
From: …@DFID.GOV.UK> To: Asmita Naik
Subject: Re: West Africa exploitation by aid workers issue
Thanks. We agree with the Aus/Can/NZ perspective. But the answer to your question is that the UK did not make an intervention at this meeting. The UK formed the view that it may be better now to look forwards than to look backwards, and to try to support the measures that are being taken to improve matters, and encourage HCR to accelerate progress to full implementation of the OIOS recommendations, than to continue to harangue the errors of the past.
2.Email asking DFID whether the UK was making a statement to the UN General Assembly and sharing the statement of the Australian/New Zealand/Canadian governments questioning the UN OIOS investigation into the West Africa report
From: Asmita Naik 25/03/03 16:36:12 To: …@DFID.GOV.UK
Thank you for your reply. I look forward to hearing DFID’s conclusions and would be happy to assist your HR department should they require support on the matter given my previous involvement in policy development on these issues.
Further to my earlier email regarding the upcoming debate at the GA, I would also appreciate it if you could confirm whether the UK made a statement about the OIOS report at that meeting. If so, I would like to obtain a copy. I’m pasting below fyi the text of a joint statement made by the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Canada where they register a number of concerns regarding the manner and conclusions of the OIOS investigation.
Statement by Australia, New Zealand and Canada on OIOS report to UN GA in early March 2003
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the delegations of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. I would like to thank Mr. Nair for introducing the report of the OIOS on its investigation into the sexual exploitation of refugees in three countries in West Africa. It is not surprising that the international community was alarmed by the survey by Save the Children (UK) - UNHCR slightly over a year ago which asserted widespread sexual exploitation of refugees by humanitarian workers, including UN employees. The very thought that the poorest and most vulnerable should be abused or exploited by those charged with protecting and helping them is an affront to fundamental human rights. The original consultant’s report, intended to be a qualitative assessment, not an exhaustive investigation, has drawn international attention to the issue of sexual violence and exploitation of refugees and internally displaced populations, and itself highlighted the need for an investigation to pursue specific allegations.
Obviously, we hope that the investigation conducted by the OIOS is correct in its conclusion that sexual exploitation by UN-related personnel is not widespread. We believe that the conduct of the vast majority of the tens of thousands of women and men engaged in various forms of humanitarian work brings credit to their humanitarian vocation. What is crucial is that both reports confirm that sexual exploitation does occur and highlight the particular vulnerability of refugee women and children. Our delegations strongly condemn any form of sexual violence or exploitation. For us the imperative is to know how to prevent such unacceptable behaviour, reduce vulnerability to exploitation, and hold misconduct to account. A valuable feature of the OIOS report is that it goes beyond the investigation of specific cases to shed light on the factors that increase vulnerability to exploitation, as well as to make recommendations on how to reduce that vulnerability and to tighten accountability when misconduct happens.
Before delving into actions for the future, it would be useful to clarify some aspects of how OIOS went about its work. We are not absolutely clear on how many of the cases identified by the consultant were in fact investigated, and why some were not. Were all the additional cases that the OIOS came across investigated? The OIOS report, it has been suggested, was limited in its approach. UNICEF, for example, is cited in the report as having been concerned that the focus of the investigation was female refugees under the age of 18, excluding other vulnerable persons, such as the internally displaced and women over 18. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) refers also to the situation of host communities. We also note that the investigation required a very high standard of evidence, which of course one would need in a court, but which might be beyond the level required to establish credibility. We would very much appreciate hearing from OIOS how it responds to these comments. Was the investigative lens too narrow? Is there any way to know if the findings would have been different if they were less narrow? It is also hard to know from the report exactly how the investigation team was staffed. Was the necessary gender and children’s rights expertise participating? What arrangements were made for the confidentiality and protection of potential complainants?
The OIOS has made thoughtful and important recommendations, covering a wide range of issues. It identifies an overall protection gap in the refugee camps in West Africa, which make them more insecure than they should be. This is a concern which can apply to humanitarian operations more globally, and should be addressed worldwide. The OIOS also emphasizes the need for effective and timely reporting systems from the field level to UNHCR Headquarters, clear mechanisms, procedures and guidelines for investigations to enable effective and timely response, closer communication with refugee populations on their rights, and a review of service provision to enhance the involvement of women, to reduce opportunities for exploitation, and to strengthen accountability to client populations. We would appreciate detailed information on the status of the implementation of these recommendations, not only from OIOS, but also from the entities to which they were directed. We welcome the efforts of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, led by OCHA and UNICEF, and its Task Force on protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. The Plan of Action is a credible response and we support its follow-up and implementation. They correctly pointed out complexities surrounding the question of who is a “humanitarian worker”. There are many different types of staff who may carry out specific tasks in a camp environment, governed by different laws, immunities, privileges, and rules, especially when peacekeeping operations are part of the mix. A disciplined approach requires a clear classification of the types of personnel, and the procedures for dealing with misconduct in each. The absence of a shared code of conduct among humanitarian agencies, varied oversight mechanisms, and insufficient attention and resources allocated for protection are also key gaps which have been identified, and which our delegations strongly believe must be urgently addressed.
We are pleased that the IASC Plan of Action includes benchmarks to address some of these issues as well as provision for program planning and design explicitly aimed to reduce vulnerability through a variety of means, including the access of women to resources and a greater role for them in camp governance. The IASC Plan of Action is quite specific, with identified time-lines for action, and we would welcome detailed information on the status of implementation. We also understand the Secretary-General is preparing a Bulletin which will provide broad guidance to the entire UN family. We urge him to do this with the utmost of speed.
Peacekeeping operations constantly interact with local populations, and the UN has established a code of conduct aimed precisely at governing such engagement. The issues being dealt with today are not new to DPKO: the question of discipline and the response to misconduct has been a feature of peacekeeping since its inception, and policies and systems continue to be developed. OIOS makes specific recommendations for DPKO to improve procedures for reporting sex-related offences and for their investigation. We would be interested in detailed information from DPKO on the outcome of the review of previously existing policies and procedures. How does DPKO view the comment in paragraph 49 of the OIOS report suggesting that the low number of reports of exploitation is more due to poor reporting than a lack of cases? Are there adequate channels for complaints about people in peacekeeping missions to be aired? Are there * or can there be * channels for reporting complaints separate from the relevant national contingent?
Clear disciplinary and accountability guidelines for peacekeepers are essential. As we know, one of the cases investigated by OIOS involved a member of a contingent, who was repatriated. Accountability should not stop with repatriation. Troop contributing countries need to discharge their own responsibilities by taking necessary disciplinary action. For its part, the UN shares a responsibility with troop contributing countries to ensure that appropriate actions are taken. How does DPKO follow up the cases of misconduct where the contingent member goes home? For DPKO as an organization, the complexity of the factors contributing to sexual abuse and exploitation underscore the importance of strengthening its capacity to integrate systematically the gender dimension into peacekeeping operations.
In addition to whatever is done to prevent exploitation and abuse, and to act decisively when it does occur, it is important for the UN to use its public information mechanisms to be frank and transparent when cases arise. We should be sensitive to the high standard to which the UN is held and to the deep public interest in what we do. Being open about problems and measures being taken to resolve them would reduce the misimpression of inaction, or worse. In the minds of our citizens, the United Nations is most associated with peacekeeping and humanitarian action. This positive association must not be jeopardized as it underpins the ongoing consent of our publics that we should work together for the high-minded goals set out in the Charter. However often or rare the incidence of sexual exploitation, it remains unacceptable and considerable work remains to be done to ensure that vulnerable populations are not put at further risk by those whose job it is to provide physical protection and material assistance. We appreciate the insights provided by the OIOS on the scale of the issue but more importantly, on how to respond to it for the future. We look forward to being briefed by the OIOS on the implementation of its recommendations when it reports to the General Assembly at its next session. We also expect the OIOS to draw to the attention of the Assembly information on other cases that come to its attention.
3.Email from DFID saying that the Human Resources department was leading DFID’s response on this issue. This was in response to a question about whether DFID was looking into developing codes of conduct for partners and DFID staff.
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 10:21:30 +0000
From: …@DFID.GOV.UK>, To: Asmita Naik
Subject: Re: West Africa exploitation by aid workers issue
We are looking into the two areas you mention vis-a-vis requiring codes of conduct of partners and the issue of codes of conduct for DFID. Our HR policy department is taking the lead on this issue rather than CHAD, as it is considered to be a central personnel-type issue for DFID rather than a programmatic issue. Our HR policy department are investigating the implications, so we should be able to let you know what their conclusions are presently.
4.Emails to DFID asking whether the UK had intervened at the UN General Assembly on the UN OIOS investigation.
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 15:18:04 -0000
From: Asmita Naik, To: …@DFID.GOV.UK
Subject: OIOS report at GA
I refer to my earlier emails raising my concerns regarding the OIOS report on sexual exploitation of refugee children in West Africa. As you know the GA discussion of the OIOS report took place last week. I would be obliged if you could send me a copy of the UK government’s intervention at that session.
From: Asmita Naik, To: …@DFID.GOV.UK
Further to our conversation yesterday, please find attached CNN transcript, couple of press articles (I have plenty more if you’re interested) and an open letter sent to Ruud Lubbers from the Womens Commission. Also if you want to talk to more people to get background I suggest: … at the US mission, also the Canadian mission as well as some of the Scandinavian donors esp. Norwegians, Danes, Human Rights Watch (… in NY), Quakers (…), … (Humanitarian Accountability Project in Geneva). I look forward to seeing you next week.
I am writing to you to confirm the evidence I gave to the International Development Committee on Tuesday [22 May 2018] and to provide further supporting evidence, in the light of some recent media comments.
In particular, I wanted to provide further underlying facts relating to my evidence to the Committee that the complaint made about Justin Forsyth in August 2015 was a complaint about the handling of the previous complaint against him, not a complaint about new misbehaviour. This statement by me reflects the clear and specific legal advice received at the time from specialist employment lawyers, Lewis Silkin, who advised Save the Children UK throughout this issue. The legal advice was that the original complaints made against Justin Forsyth in January 2012 and March 2015 had been resolved by agreement between the complainants, Justin Forsyth, and Save the Children UK. Save UK was advised by the lawyers that as a matter of law there would need to be good reason to reopen a disciplinary or conduct matter which had been concluded, e.g. if new allegations came to light. The facts of the allegations against Justin Forsyth were not in dispute in any of the earlier cases, as he had acknowledged and apologised for what had happened. There had been no new allegations against him. It was because of this background that the legal advice was that the appropriate way to respond to the complaint made in August 2015 was to establish the review, which was set up immediately, into the way in which the earlier complaints against Justin Forsyth were handled. This was alongside a separate review into the culture of the organisation. This was the basis on which I gave my evidence of the facts to the Committee.
The Committee may also wish to know that at a later date, in September 2015, the original complainant wrote to Save UK saying that she would like Save UK to treat her complaint of 14 August as a formal grievance. External legal advice was again taken from Lewis Silkin in relation to this development. Save UK was advised by a second partner in Lewis Silkin that the course of action on which it had embarked, namely carrying out the review, was appropriate. Save UK was advised that the case law relating to reopening disciplinary proceedings showed that it would require exceptional circumstances to reopen a closed disciplinary matter. We were advised that at the conclusion of the review the trustees would have the necessary information with which to decide whether exceptional circumstances existed to reopen an investigation into the original conduct of Justin Forsyth. In the meantime, the matter was taken forward in accordance with the grievance procedure until the grievance was withdrawn. For completeness, further advice was given in October 2015 by Freshfields, after I had stepped down as Chair of Save UK. I understand that Freshfields was asked to advise whether Save UK should reopen an investigation in relation to the original complaints made against Justin Forsyth. They agreed with the advice given by Lewis Silkin. When the review into past complaints was delivered in October 2015, the Trustees agreed not to re-open the investigations. This was a unanimous decision and was in accordance with the recommendation of the Sub-Committee that had been convened to consider these matters. The Trustees received advice from the Sub-Committee that it was not appropriate to do so in accordance with the legal advice given by Lewis Silkin. 2 I appreciate that the contents of all this legal advice were unlikely to be known to the complainants or their supporters, but it is clear that at all times Save UK acted specifically in accordance with the legal advice it received.
Finally, I would also like to confirm that I did not provide a reference to Unicef regarding Justin Forsyth, nor was I Chair when a conversation did take place between Save the Children and Unicef’s head-hunters. I shall be grateful if the Committee will regard this letter as further evidence to its inquiry, and I am happy for the contents of this letter to be made public.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to respond on a number of points concerning Oxfam’s handling of certain events in Haiti in 2011.
When I and other senior staff and trustees first heard from the whistle-blower in Haiti in 2011, we were deeply concerned and immediately sent an investigation team to find out what was going on. As our investigation took place and the unacceptable behaviour of Oxfam staff was exposed, we were horrified; their behaviour was in total opposition to Oxfam’s values and culture - something I will pick up later, in response to the last question.
In answer to your specific questions:
In August 2011, as our internal investigation into the events in Haiti was taking place, we took legal advice from the law firm Lewis Silkin about what we were able to say in public. A copy of that advice is attached. We felt that it was important to make a public statement about what had happened in Haiti as part of our on-going commitment to be open and transparent. However, we were also mindful of the legal boundaries as to how much we could reveal. The advice we received made it clear that we should not mention any names of the individuals involved and, importantly, should also not give details of the types of misconduct being investigated since this would open us to charges of defamation of character by one or more members of staff. For that reason, in the three press statements we released we did not mention the specific types of misconduct that we had found to be taking place.
In terms of what was shared with donors, I did not, myself, make the decision about what should be shared with donors as I was out of the country at the time and delegated, as I normally would, to the appropriate person. But, of course, as CEO I was still the person with ultimate accountability for the decisions taken. My understanding is that we also took the legal advice into account when formulating our communications to donors and relevant external bodies as there was a real concern that any details such as the names of the individuals or the reasons for any of the dismissals might get into the public domain which would again run the risk of exposing Oxfam to criticism or legal challenge.
It should be noted that we did say in the letter to DFID (and other donors) that the breaches of the Code of Conduct were “serious in nature” but “not concerning fraud”. At that time, fraud was a major concern to all donors given the large sums of public money being raised for use in Haiti. The letters made it very clear to donors that we would provide further information if required, and in fact, we were contacted by some of the other donors following receipt of our letter, but not by DFID. At that time in 2011 we were not routinely asked by any donors to report on whether we were experiencing conduct issues of a sexual nature and / or related to sexual exploitation or misconduct as this was not thought to be a significant risk within the sector at the time.
In answer to your question, I do not accept, as suggested by Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, that we were only acting to the letter and not in the spirit of our obligations. The fact that Oxfam voluntarily made press statements and wrote to donors about the events at the time they happened, despite having no obligation to do so, highlights the charity’s commitment to addressing the issues head on. I am confident in my opinion that these are not the action of an organisation seeking only to comply with the letter of the obligations.
The legal advice given to Oxfam in 2011 is that there was no specific offence of prostitution, although it was generally discouraged and the law did contain a wider offence against public decency. The use of prostitutes is still only illegal in a handful of countries in the world and on that basis there was no evidence from the investigation that crimes had been committed by any of the Oxfam staff.
There were some initial allegations that there may have been exploitation of minors in Haiti by Oxfam staff. However, following a detailed investigation several statements were made by individuals which confirmed that the women involved were not minors and some of the information received about the possible use of minors was found to be without foundation. After detailed investigation, the team in Haiti concluded that in relation to the involvement of minors ‘none of the evidence was substantiated’.
It could be argued that we should have engaged with the women more thoroughly to find out whether there were minors. In retrospect, and with hindsight, we could have pursued that further - but I think all of us concerned felt, at the time, that we had enough information and evidence to ensure that the staff involved were removed from Oxfam and from Haiti. Our priority at the time was not to further jeopardise the important work we were doing in Haiti.
In the report made to the Charity Commission in 2011, we were more explicit regarding the nature of the misconduct, stating that the gross misconduct related to “inappropriate sexual behaviour, bullying, harassment and intimidation”. As a charity, this report was being made to the Charity Commission as our regulator. The report was made as a serious incident report, for which there was no prescribed format. The Charity Commission responded to our report on 29 August 2011 stating that “as Oxfam has taken appropriate action following the incident we have no regulatory concerns”. The report did not refer to crimes being committed as the investigation had not found that the staff had been engaged in criminal activity and the primary concern was that members of staff had breached our Code of Conduct. The phrase ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ arguably suggests more serious activity than a phrase such as ‘staff were alleged to be using prostitutes in breach of our internal Code of Conduct’ and the words used to describe the misconduct in the report to the Charity Commission were thought to convey the severity of some of the breaches of the Code of Conduct.
There was no intention to withhold information from the report to the Charity Commission and the Charity Commission were specifically invited to raise any questions with Oxfam at that time. In my view Oxfam were transparent about what had happened as shown by the concurrent voluntary statements to the press.
Regarding Roland van Hauwermeiren:
In 2011, neither myself, the trustees, nor the senior management team were aware that Roland had been dismissed from another humanitarian agency in 2003, nor had any of us heard any rumours about staff behaviour from the time when he was the Country Director in Chad. These concerns have only come to light very recently.
At his first interview with the investigation team Roland offered his resignation on the basis of his management accountability for the country team and at the same time confessed to having paid for sex on two occasions. For the avoidance of doubt, he was not involved in the allegations that were being investigated relating to activities in the Oxfam shared house. The investigating team and the Regional Programme manager, who had just flown in to take overall charge in Haiti, knew that there had been intimidation by one or more of those who were being investigated. They believed that it would only be possible to carry out a thorough investigation if the Country Director was present and cooperating. Furthermore, we were also very concerned to maintain the aid programme that we were providing in Haiti. At this early stage we did not know the full extent of the concerns about behaviour of staff but there was a suspicion that we might have to investigate and potentially lose a significant number of staff, at a time when there was still a considerable need for aid and support in Haiti. The investigating team and Regional Programme Manager in Haiti recommended that in the circumstances we should accept his resignation but have him remain in post only for a short period and after some deliberation the decision was made to allow Roland to resign in order to secure his continued co-operation with the investigation of the other staff members and to ensure continuity of the aid programme and avoid causing further harm to the people of Haiti.
With regard to the other two employees, I can confirm:
One of these individuals (a non-European Union national) was employed by Oxfam in Russia under a Russian Law contract of employment, who was seconded to Haiti. He resigned but we still completed the disciplinary and appeal process with him and informed him that, had his employment not been governed by the Russian legal framework, Oxfam would have dismissed him. As it was, we were unable to use the word ‘Dismissal’ in his Russian Labour Book, or retain formal letters relating to the incident on his personal file. (We had taken legal advice in Russia to make sure we complied with the law).
The second employee was on annual leave at the time, and submitted his resignation whilst on leave before we could conduct any interviews with him. He was due to return from leave on 29 August 2011 with his fixed term contract due to finish on 7 September 2011. He was reminded that he needed to give four weeks’ notice and informed that we needed to discuss the allegations that had been made against him and give him the opportunity to respond. He was warned that if he did not respond we would record on file that he had resigned during an investigation and was unwilling to discuss the allegations with Oxfam. We did not hear back from him. To date, as far as I have been able to ascertain, we were not asked for any reference for him afterwards (though it is not possible to prove this definitively).
In Haiti, our HR team were not able to provide negative references for any staff. Local law prevented them from doing this. We were extremely anxious to ensure that these individuals were not reemployed either by Oxfam or other aid agencies so we arranged for any reference request for these staff to be forwarded from Haiti to our Head of Employee Relations who was able to provide a reference that complied with UK law by issuing a record of employment only, but adding that we would not re-employ them. On more than one occasion we were contacted by other agencies and able to say that the staff had been disciplined under our Code of Conduct.
Unfortunately it now appears that one of the staff investigated in Haiti and dismissed was able to be reemployed as a result of a ’peer reference’ being provided under the Oxfam name from another person dismissed. (This can happen when another agency has a form and do not send it through to an Oxfam account but to a personal email address). The reference given was not a formal Oxfam reference and, although it is extremely regrettable, it is not something that was within Oxfam’s control. As an additional precaution our HR Director had also informally alerted a number of other UK agencies that they should contact Oxfam before employing international staff who had worked in Haiti at that time.
Within Oxfam GB itself, the records were ‘flagged’ on the e-recruitment system noting that anyone reviewing the file should consult their senior managers in HR. In some cases, Oxfam was asked for a reference and replied that they would not re-employ the individuals. In one case, when further details were requested, Oxfam wrote back to say that for legal reasons further details could not be provided.
As noted earlier, legal advice was taken within Haiti on whether prostitution was or was not illegal in Haiti. Prostitution was not itself a specific criminal offence in Haiti. There is no evidence, as far as I am aware, that the use of prostitutes was a criminal offence in Haiti in 2011. However, I should add that even if the use of prostitutes had been a criminal offence it is unclear that there would have been a legal requirement for Oxfam to report this to the local authorities. Oxfam would have had a duty of care to its employees and reporting its own staff to the local authorities is something on which Oxfam would have had to take specific legal advice, had it considered that crimes had taken place. I understand that the British Government has itself come to the conclusion that the reporting of sexual offences should not be mandatory, and that would seem to be the position in most countries, as it would have been in 2011.
The member of staff in The Times’ report of 17 March 2018, was indeed given a final warning in June 2010 at a formal meeting, following complaints of sexual harassment by female expatriates and other breaches of the Code of Conduct. It was noted then that any further misconduct of any type would result in dismissal. Further allegations were made against this individual in December 2010 that he was bringing prostitutes into Oxfam’s accommodation. It appears that although the Country Director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, was informed, he consulted the Haiti HR Manager (himself subsequently dismissed in August 2011) and Roland van Hauwermeiren stated that he was satisfied there was no case and no further action was taken.
In August 2011, having read the full investigation material, it was quite clear to me that the person concerned should have been dismissed much earlier.
I was not aware of the correspondence from people in the Humanitarian Management Team in Oxford which subsequently came to light and appears to condone such appalling behaviour. The behaviour, and its condoning, is totally against Oxfam’s values. Subsequently in 2018, I was informed that the personnel manager had, at the time, taken the individual to task about his views.
The senior managers and trustees of Oxfam in 2011 took the staff breaches of the Code of Conduct extremely seriously and we immediately took steps to both improve understanding in the humanitarian team and also to make clear, right across our humanitarian activity, the unacceptability of what had happened. This was, of course, included in the more comprehensive Action Plan. Following the Haiti events both the humanitarian department and humanitarian work were the highest priority for clarifying our position and reaffirming our culture.
Oxfam always was, and still is, an organisation of deep values and culture. As Chief Executive, I saw it as a major part of my role, alongside the Council (Trustees) and senior managers to maintain and develop this culture, as well as taking action when people did not adhere to it and also making clear to staff what would happen if they did break our Code of Conduct. We focussed particularly strongly on gender issues in both humanitarian and development work with an internal commitment to “putting poor women’s rights at the heart of all we do”. We had a strong ethos of transparency and also worked on accountability to beneficiaries to try to reduce the unequal power relationship between aid recipients and aid deliverers.
To be clear, these messages were passed through the management line as well as at meetings of Regional Directors and in the biennial meetings with Country Directors. In addition, I myself wrote a letter once a month which went to every member of staff across the world, including drivers and receptionists, etc. In these I was able to make sure staff knew what we expected of them, for example, picking up issues about sexual exploitation in the sector in a number of these letters.
Of course, as is clear from the events in Haiti in 2011, no organisation is perfect. The key for me following the 2011 investigation was to take action and make it clear again to all staff of the implications of breaching our Code. We made a concerted effort to educate staff and change the culture across the organisation following the events in Haiti. Yes, there had been individual cases previously, properly investigated and action taken and we had been reporting the number of cases in our public Annual Accountability report regularly from 2006/7. These were small in number and in fact we were emphasising the need for everyone to report their concerns, including through separate “whistle-blowing” phone numbers, precisely because we were concerned that we might not be hearing about all poor behaviour.
Overall the only area where I think the culture was not as strong was in some of the humanitarian work in the most extreme emergency environments. That became much more obvious as a result of the Haiti investigation in 2011, and of course we took on board the serious need to shift that culture. Apart from the often chaotic circumstances in which staff are working, the difference with humanitarian work is that you are often employing workers from around the world on short term contracts who therefore have less allegiance to the organisation and its values, but that is no excuse for the unacceptable behaviour in Haiti.
I have no comment on Oxfam’s current safeguarding, except to say that an enormous amount has been done since I left and I know Oxfam has been reviewed and shown to have some of the best policies and procedures in the sector (for example, the Tuft’s report identifies Oxfam as an example of good practice within the sector). If we are going to improve further I think the whole sector must move together, since in humanitarian work we are transferring staff repeatedly, and, they are all working together in emergency environments. That means setting common standards, I believe, as well as the ability to report personnel concerns across countries. I know the Committee is grappling with how this might be done given the complex legal and compliance constraints on sharing information.
Finally, I do believe that we must encourage a culture and way of operating that prioritises and encourages agencies and the individuals within them to report when behaviours are poor, in order that these behaviours can be acknowledged and properly addressed. I fear that the way Oxfam’s actions are being reassessed with the benefit of hindsight, rather than with the contemporary lens of the time and without the understanding of the detailed facts, will lead people to be less transparent. Dealing with sexual exploitation, or for that matter other issues such as fraud, requires constant vigilance and support when the problems are being tackled.
Despite what has been reported in the media, I can assure you that Oxfam firmly believed that in making press statements in 2011 and writing to its donors about the events in Haiti that it was making a clear statement to its staff and other external agencies that the poor behaviour of its staff was not acceptable. There was, categorically, no attempt to cover up or down play what had happened and the suggestion that Oxfam was complying only with the letter rather than the spirit of the rules is completely contrary to Oxfam’s and my own core values.
Whilst you clearly have a wish to be seen to have dealt with this seriously both internally and externally, we do have some concerns about some of the information that you are considering sharing externally. I think your option of taking a more ‘vague’ approach is likely to be a safer way of handling this, however I have set out some more details below.
- Can you give names? Our view is that this would not be prudent. I think that there is a risk in relation to potential privacy/human rights claims that could arise if we name employees in the press in this way. In addition, if an employee was to pursue an employment claim and we have published their name in connection with these allegations, there is a good chance that their claim would be worth more financially as their opportunities for mitigating their losses are likely to be significantly reduced. We also, of course, risk a ‘press war’ where the employee might make potentially damaging (whether true ir untrue) statements about Oxfam. Given that employment will have ended, I do not think an employee would be able to claim that giving their names gives rise to an employment claim in itself (e.g. a breach of trust and confidence), but it’s possible it could lead to the other types of claims I mentioned above (privacy/human rights).
- Can you give details of the allegations made? Ideally, this would again be limited - perhaps simply refer to the fact that there have been various allegations of “wrongdoing” or some equally generic word. If you decide that you want to publicise the precise allegations, you should be aware that all of those who have been dismissed/left are likely to be tarred with the same brush in terms of the nature of allegations - this could potentially lead to a defamation claim against us. This is potentially the case even if we do not name names, since these may well leak out/emerge separately and they would then be linked to all the allegations even if, in fact, they had only actually been accused of one type of misconduct.
- Can you give details of sanction? I think this is fine, obviously depending on your decisions in respect of the above two categories. Our recommendation would be that approach this in a vague way, stating simply that “certain allegations of wrongdoing have been made, Oxfam has carefully and conscientiously investigated and, as a result of those investigations, X number of people have been dismissed or left the organisation”.
- Is there a difference between internal and external communications? Yes, I think it is legitimate to take a less vague approach internally, but I think it should be strongly emphasised that you need to consider the protection of Oxfam’s personnel and reputation first and foremost and therefore it should be a strictly confidential communication. I think you are right to be concerned that individuals not associated with these allegations could be wrongly associated with it by former colleagues if we do not give an internal communication on this point. Ideally, this should be limited to those staff close to the issues (e.g. I would not broadcast this as an ‘all staff’ email).
- Can you communicate prior to the appeal hearing? I don’t see a problem with this from a legal perspective, since technically the employees will have been dismissed and therefore our statement would be factually accurate. The question will be whether we make clear in the statement that the dismissals remain open to appeal - I suspect that this would weaken our statement and therefore this is unlikely to be a popular move. However, if we make a statement prior to the appeal and then the appeal changes the outcome (e.g. an employee is reinstated), I think it would be important to update any statement to make clear that the numbers of employees dismissed have changed. In an ideal world, we would at least wait until the deadline for appealing has passed so that we can be confident about the accuracy of any statement, but I appreciate this might be difficult.
On a wider note, I think that there are potentially privacy and defamation risks here, depending on the level of information that you give out and the fact that information may be put together in a way which results in a misleading impression. I would therefore encourage you to seek advice separately on these issues, either from your in-house legal team or your defamation advisors.
Thank you for your letter dated 21st June 2018. We are grateful for your understanding of our position regarding the interaction between the Select Committee’s important work and the Charity Commission’s Statutory Inquiry regarding Save the Children UK’s response to serious allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members in 2012 and 2015.
As a former trustee who sat on Save the Children UK’s Board between 2009–2016, I felt that it was right for me to step aside from the liaison with the Charity Commission on the Statutory Inquiry and have delegated authority for this to a separate senior team of staff. Through this team, we are engaging fully with the Commission to support the work of the Statutory Inquiry and to ensure the Commission are aware of other developments which may affect their regulatory investigations. In that context we notified the Charity Commission of the requests made in your earlier letter.
As you are aware, Charity Commission has strongly advised us against sharing information directly pertinent to the remit of their inquiry at this time. They have warned that this would pose a serious risk of prejudicing the outcomes of the statutory investigation.
While we want to do everything we can to support the Committee’s inquiry, it is absolutely critical that we respect the Charity Commission’s advice. For that reason, and that reason alone, we do not feel able to provide several pieces of the information you requested until the Statutory Inquiry is complete.
Having discussed the specific information requested with the Commission, we are concerned that following items directly overlap with the remit of the Statutory Inquiry into Save the Children’s handling of historic cases:
As a result, I regret that we do not feel able to provide this information at this time – however we would of course be happy to provide it (with appropriate anonymisation, as you noted in the original request), once the Charity Commission inquiry has been completed.
We have included below and in documents attached, information regarding the two other areas on which you requested details:
Regarding the request for a copy of ‘the HR policy under which the complaints process against Justin Forsyth in 2012 was conducted’ – we have attached copies of several policies which in place in 2012 and 2015 when concerns were raised by staff members about Justin Forsyth [not reproduced]. According to the independent report commissioned into the handling of the Justin Forsyth cases (which, as above, we regret that we do not feel able to share at present), the relevant HR policies in these cases were our grievance, harassment, whistleblowing and disciplinary policies, which are all attached.
Regarding point 5. of your request - Save the Children does not use Non-Disclosure Agreements to resolve employment matters. In some cases, and in common with organisations across all sectors, the charity does use Settlement Agreements to settle disputes between employees and the organisation. Settlement Agreements are legally binding contracts that waive an individual’s rights to make a claim covered by the agreement to an employment tribunal or court. These agreements are a widely-recognised way of resolving disputes, and usually include some form of payment to the employee, often with an agreed reference; they must be in writing and relate to a particular complaint or proceedings. To protect the employee and the organisation, a Settlement Agreement would normally contain clauses requiring both parties to maintain confidentiality.
Based on our records, we have used 18 of these agreements since 2014 to resolve employment disputes – these cases relate to issues of redundancy, capability and performance, long-term incapacity and legal compliance issues. No Settlement Agreements were used to resolve complaints of harassment or bullying and neither Mr Forsyth nor Mr Cox were subject to Settlement Agreements.
We recognise that this leaves significant gaps in response to the Committee’s requests. I want to reiterate that we are happy to provide further information once the Statutory Inquiry is complete, and to apologise completely for the fact that we currently feel unable to do this.
Save the Children takes its obligations to Parliament extremely seriously. We have welcomed the scrutiny of Committee members and other parliamentarians into both the issues of sexual exploitation in the aid sector and historic cases of staff misconduct. Your inquiry will play a critical role in holding our organisations to account and helping us frame the reforms needed to strengthen our safeguarding systems, ensure that our staff are respected and protected, and rebuild trust with the UK public. I look forward to sharing with the Committee the measures we have introduced in Save the Children to discharge our responsibilities.
Separately from the above, I am very grateful for the Committee’s understanding that I was not able to attend the evidence session in May … and I would welcome the opportunity to return to provide answers on the steps taken by Save the Children since 2015 and that we plan to take in the future to address these issues. I would also be delighted to discuss progress on some of the initiatives we discussed in February.
We appreciate the Committee’s understanding that the Statutory Inquiry means there are some constraints on what I may feel able to answer at the session, related to the remit of the Commission’s investigations. However, I would be happy to appear before the Committee to answer further questions following the conclusion of the Statutory Inquiry.
Thank you again for your leadership on this critical inquiry – and for the scrutiny your Committee is providing. I will do everything in my power to support and respond to this and would be happy to provide more information on any of the above.
376 See oral evidence given on and ; see also oral evidence given on
378 OXFAM is waiving privilege in this legal advice only for the purposes of the International Development Committee Inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector 2018 only.
379 See .
Published: 31 July 2018